Fake Listings: The Latest Craigslist Rental Scam

Fake Listings: The Latest Craigslist Rental Scam

If you’re looking for a rental apartment, it’s very tempting to start with Craigslist, where several area rental listings are conveniently all in one place. There are definitely deals to be had, especially since individual owners list on the site. As opposed to a few years ago, now nearly every listing comes with photos.

But scammers like Craigslist, too. Just as bank robbers famously “go where the money is,” con artists go where there are people who need apartments – and whose need to move can make them a little desperate sometimes.

A few months ago, LearnVest warned about a new rental scam, in which scammers post a description and photos of an apartment that’s not available for rent. An updated version of this has shown up on Craigslist in Sacramento, where we heard about it from our friends at ABC News 10.

Here’s How It Works.

  • Scammers post a description and photos for a rental apartment that’s actually a sales listing. Because the apartment is real, the ad copy and the photos feel genuine.
  • The prospective renter sifts through hundreds of listings looking for an apartment and sees one that looks nice and feels real – she might be tempted to let down her guard. Scammers are counting on this.
  • The con artists ask the renter to send in a deposit in exchange for keys. They take one deposit, or five, or ten, and then disappear.
  • Ripped-off renters who go to the original address in person simply find the realtor who put up the sales listing – and who had no one idea that anyone stole his or her ad copy and photos in the first place.

What You Can Do: Trust Your Instincts.

Sacramento-area realtor Doug Thomas, who had a listing copied by scammers in this way, noted that it was advertised at an extremely low rental price: $500 for a two-bedroom. If you see anything on Craigslist (or elsewhere) that seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Know The Rental Process.

If you’re looking for a place, check out our tips for using Craiglist. Most importantly, never, ever, hand any agent a cash deposit. A responsible real estate agent will take checks and hand you the keys in person at a lease signing.

Do Your Homework.

If you want to find out if an agent is legitimate, you can always check the licensing at your state’s Department of State. Just Google “[your state]” + “department of state” + “licensing.”


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