Landlord / Tenant Q&A: LURLINE R. JOHNSON (R), ABR, CRB, CRS, GRI, RMP
Q. I had a lady come to my rental property while I was there doing some cleaning and maintenance and she told me she was sent by the owner to look at the property since she had just signed a contract for the rental. I let her know that I was the owner and I hadn’t spoken to her. She insisted that she had been in correspondence with the owner who was in Nigeria on a mission and had sent the rental money and security deposit through Western Union. She said the keys were going to be coming to her in the mail in just a few days. I felt so sorry for her – since she was obviously scammed via a Craigslist ad.
I didn’t know what to tell her. I do use Craigslist for my advertising. How can I protect myself and future tenants from something like this happening again?
A. Online rental scams have been around for a couple of years and it seems that they are getting even more prevalent. Of course anything that looks too good to be true probably is. The story lines are similar – the property owner is overseas, usually on a mission, trip or some other church-related event and the rent is normally half or so of what other properties are going for in the area.
Basically what these criminals are doing is copying the listing information and then posting it as a rental property with fraudulent contact information. I even saw one where the name of the listing agent was correct but the email address was a bogus one. If an unsuspecting renter were to use this email address, they would be corresponding with the criminal who posted the bogus ad.
Craigslist is the online site most commonly used for these bogus rentals but they have also popped up on Trulia, Zillow and other sites as well. So how can you protect yourself? One way would be to track and monitor your listing. Checking for the address (and attached pictures) can give you a heads-up if there is a fraudulent ad posted for your property. You can also enter your listing address as a Google Alert. Google will then send you an email if it finds one of your queries in its search results. If you find your property inaccurately posted as a rental on Zillow or Trulia, simply click the “Report Problem” tab on the listing details page.
If you are a victim of a Craigslist rental scam there are a few things you can do: 1. Make a screenshot of the listing. Scammers often post a listing for a short time and take it down as soon as they have a response. 2. Alert Craigslist by flagging the post as “prohibited” (upper right corner of the page). 3. Send detailed information to abuse@craigslist org. Be sure to include the URL (or 10-digit post ID number) in your message. 4. Contact the owner or rental agent (if you can find their legitimate ad) and alert them about the false Craigslist posting. 5. Follow up on Craigslist and review the site to ensure the faulty posting is removed.
You might have the desire to get back at the scammer – or set them up by contacting them and having a dialogue but be aware that these are criminals and you don’t want to put yourself in jeopardy. Just reporting the fraudulent ad to the particular site is a good step towards stopping this type of unscrupulous activity. You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission who use this type of data to track patterns of wrongdoing – which can ultimately help with investigations and prosecutions.