Scott Smith’s house in the heart of the Garden District attracted a lot of attention from prospective renters over the past several weeks.
The only problem was his house wasn’t for rent.
Smith put his house up for sale with Re/Max Premier Realty in Monroe and it sold within a matter of days. About two weeks after the house sold Smith began receiving visitors. They’d come at all hours of the day to look at the house — sometimes he’d drive up after work or after a visit to the grocery store and find people peering into his windows.
Each time they’d want to know about the home, saying they saw an advertisement on Craigslist about it being for rent.
Smith personally met eight people during this time and advised them it was a scam, though he doesn’t know how many people made contact with the scammer.
Some of the visitors showed Smith the email correspondence with the scammer, who told people she was living out of the state because of work and wanted to rent the home. She indicated she was deaf so all correspondence with potential victims was done by email. She asked for a deposit of $600 to be sent to a Post Office box in Philadelphia, and the key would be sent by overnight to the renter.
“I had six couples come by in one day, and it went on for about two weeks with people coming and going, walking around the house from daylight to dark,” Smith said. “The person claiming to rent the house used the name of my ex-wife — though I know for a fact it wasn’t her. That just shows they did research and tied her name to my home. They were just trying to con people out of $600. Half of the people I talked to were ready to send the money, but nobody I’ve come in contact with sent money.”
Re/Max realtor Jackie Guillot said these scams happen often, even in the Monroe area.
She knows of several couples who have lost money — some who have sent thousands for a deposit — looking to rent or purchase homes via advertisements on Craigslist.
“This is not the first time — it happens frequently. Most of these scams involve an empty house that’s listed on Craigslist as available for rent. They’ll ask people to mail the deposit to a certain address and the key will be mailed in return. Thing is, you’ll never get the key,” Guillot said.
She advises renters who are interested in property displaying a realty agency’s sign to contact the agency first. She said people should always look at a home with the owner or a Realtor if it’s listed.
Never visit a location alone and never send off money, Guillot said.
“If someone asks you to mail money — just don’t do it. There are legit rentals on Craigslist, but if someone is going to have property to rent on Craigslist, they will have someone locally to handle it. I know several people who’ve fallen victim to this scam,” Guillot said.
The Better Business Bureau says phony ads for rental properties across the country are cropping up and are specifically aimed at stealing money from unsuspecting renters.
Renters typically fall victim to this scam after responding to an online classified for a rental property. Victims say they were told by the supposed landlord that they needed to wire a deposit and then they would receive the keys to the rental home. When the victims asked if they could check out the property first, some of the landlords claimed that they were out of the country or out of state and could not show the house. Some suggest people go look for themselves, knowing the house is empty.
Scammers often use information and pictures from homeowners who have their house up for sale — not rent — and had pictures posted online that the scammers could steal for their bogus listings.
BBB advises renters of the following red flags to look out for:
• The deal sounds too good to be true. Scammers will often list a rental for a very low price to lure in victims. Find out how comparable listings are priced, and if the rental comes in suspiciously low, walk away.
• The landlord is located elsewhere and prefers to communicate via e-mail. Scammers might say they have just been relocated out of the country for a job or missionary work – don’t believe it.
• The landlord requires a substantial deposit before handing over the keys or even showing the home. Don’t pay any money before inspecting the home, inside and out.
• The landlord asks the renter to wire money through wire transfer services such as Western Union or MoneyGram. Money sent via wire transfer service is extremely difficult to retrieve and once the scammers have picked it up, there is little recourse—if any—for getting your money back.
For more advice you can trust from BBB on how to avoid common scams, visit www.bbb.org.