WRAL Investigates

Triangle rental homes hijacked on Craigslist

Posted August 22, 2011 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated August 22, 2011 7:24 p.m. EDT

WRAL Investigates

— The advertisement on Craigslist sounded too good to be true – a house for rent near Interstate 540 in Raleigh for $600 a month, including utilities. For interested renters, there was a catch – the owner of the house didn’t post that ad.

Owner Sharon Evans posted her house on another rental property website and first heard about the Craigslist ad from a WRAL News reporter. This was the first time someone had hijacked her house ad and posted it as their own, Evans said, but as a real estate agent she has seen it happen many times with homes she is helping to sell.

“They would scrape those (house) pictures and then put it up for rent for half of what it normally would rent if it were actually for rent,” Evans said.

The ad for Evans’ house has been taken off Craigslist, but a potential renter sent WRAL News an email she exchanged with the fraudulent advertiser. A woman claiming to be from the United Kingdom told the potential renter to send $1,200 in cash and that the keys would be mailed within 24 hours.

The woman also gave the potential renter a phone number to call. When the renter asked to see the inside of the house, the person on the other end hung up.

WRAL News also called the number, which has a Colorado area code, and spoke to a man. He said the house was still available for rent and that he wanted to rent it out “as soon as possible.” The man then told the WRAL reporter that he had a bad phone connection and to email his wife with an application.

In reality, Evans’ house is on the rental market for nearly double what the fake ad was asking for.

“Someone who quickly corresponds with you through email and doesn’t let you see (the house) and asks low dollars is not going to be legit,” said Evans, who is a real estate agent.

FBI officials, who have been monitoring these cases around the country, say they think some of the fake ads are coming out of Nigeria. In Raleigh, the police department has seen several cases in the past few months.

For Evans, she says the only way she can make sure her ads aren’t being stolen is to “spend every waking moment trying to see if someone posts an ad and then flag it as fraudulent.”

Craigslist posts tips for how to avoid scams. Potential renters who question an ad should check county property records to see who owns the house. It’s also important not to wire money to unknown people.