The Real Estate Scams From Free Craigslist Ads


Craigslist makes it seem easy for anybody to rent their own home.  Placing an ad is free and you can hide your contact information when people respond.  It is so easy, that many people now post ads on Craigslist.  Many tenants realize this is also a nice free way to seek a rental property.  Turns out that Craigslist produces a lot of activity for a price that is hard to beat.
When posting your home for rent, you provide enough information to give interested parties what they need to consider the home.  The address is often one of the key components, along with pictures.  You will start getting responses, lots of them.  Lets review how a typical Craigslist scam unfolds.

How A Craigslist Rental Scam Develops

If you take a look at Craigslist ads, there are lots of them by date posted.  Most interested renters check it daily or every other day.  After about a week your ad has dropped pretty far down the page and much less likely to receive a view.
This is where the scammers create a new ad using your information and pictures  The prospective renter sees the home and lower rent by several hundred a month.  They respond to the ad.  From here things can go several directions usually depending on the location of the scammer.

Probably the worst case is a local scammer who finds out how to access your rental and proceeds to show it to the prospect representing their association with the owner or manager.  What I commonly see though is a simple giving of the address, scheduling an appointment, going to look but person does not show for access (stating there is confusion on the time or some other excuse).  Oh, and by the way there are several interested parties so if you think this home will work then you better submit a holding fee.  At that point if the prospect sends money they will not see their funds again and will likely learn they have been scammed pretty quickly.

The Scam Works Because It Seems To Good To Be True!

Like most scams, the scammer preys on our human fallibility about finding a bargain.  People are willing to send money to strangers in order to obtain a deal!

Clearly, the interested tenant must take responsibility for falling prey to this scam.

Examples of The Scam

Please don’t think that as an owner  this is not an important issue for you.  Here are some examples of true stories taken from reports of other property owners and managers.

Example 1

The victim paid $1900, with no key, was told by the scammer to break a small window for access.  They moved in on Sunday evening, and we went by to check the property on Monday and found their stuff in the property.  The Police were involved in getting the then trespasser out of the property, who continued to argue that they had a legitimate lease.

Example 2

New tenants we screened and approved moved in on a Sunday.  The following Saturday they called us to say a moving van was sitting outside the home with people at the door who are upset that people are living in the home.  These folks are claiming that they have a security deposit held by the owner and a lease in the moving truck.  They are assuming now that the owner rented it twice in order to protect himself.  Actually the owner only rented to the people who occupied the home.  The people in the moving van had come 500 miles but never checked out the property other than pictures on line.  They wired a $3000 deposit to hold the home.

What Can An Owner Do To Prevent This?

The best action an owner or manager can take is placing a sign in the home that describes or identifies the owner or leasing entity.  Even a “no trespassing” sing with contact information in the window can accomplish the same purpose.  When the interested tenant drives by they will be confused as to the difference in names on the signs versus who they are contacting.  We usually get a phone call at this point and the prospect thanks me for saving them a grand or so.  Signs are your best public service weapon.

Of course you can peruse Craigslist daily for ads that seem suspicious.  Respond to the ad and see what you find out.  Craigslist does offer a reporting mechanism for fraudulent ads.  Reporting these people knock the fake ad and the scammer off Craigslist until they create another account with a new email.

Ultimately, both actions are necessary.

As an owner, should you care?  I think we all should not want to see the criminals be able to ruin a marketplace with so much attraction.  Lets all take an active roll in stopping the scammers so our potential tenants are not lost when they lose their hard earned money.  Not to mention that often the suspicions remain that somehow the owner was involved in the scam.

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