Regretfully, all is not what it seems on Craigslist. On a recent REO listing we received numerous calls inquiring whether the property was for rent or for sale. Shortly after we posted the home on the multiple listing service someone posted a Craigslist ad offering the property for rent at a ridiculously low price. The ad actually copied our MLS headline and verbiage word-for-word. This was an upscale property in remarkably good condition for an REO. We expected a lot of inquiries, but not from renters.
Some of the callers had driven by the property, noticed our lawn sign, figured the spoof and called to tip us off. One of the parties answered the ad and received a response from an “absentee owner” with elaborate instructions regarding deposit, credit check, keys, etc.
This isn’t the first time someone rent-spoofed one of our REO listings. The last time we got tipped off, one of my staff posed as a prospective renter and carried on a clever reverse spoof with the scammer by email. She filled out a long application under a celebrity name, answered by a request for a photo. She sent a photo of another celebrity, answered by a request for a money order for the deposit. The scammer explained how they really wanted someone who would take good care of their home while they were overseas, how they would take time out of their busy schedule to fly home and deliver the keys once the deposit had cleared.
Game on. The scammer fell for the spoof, apparently not picking up on the celebrity name or photo. This is where it got interesting. My assistant crafted a passable, but obviously mocked-up money order and sent it. After a couple of days, the scammer responded furiously, all upset that the money order was a fake, going on and on about how someone would take advantage of him that way. Finally I weighed in and emailed the fellow explaining the spoof, how much fun we had, and the implications of the fraud he was attempting. He wrote me back telling me to “go and die.”
Although we’ve been tipped off to only a couple of instances over the last three years, it’s probable that this goes on all the time. The sad part is, like all internet scams, they must work sometimes. If people didn’t fall for them, they would stop. Beware the Craigslist rent scam, and warn everybody you know: don’t pay for anything you can’t verify! If you are even slightly suspicious, consult a professional.
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