Article by Brandon T. Bisceglia, The Hartford Skepticism Examiner
Derby resident Rebecca Barbera was searching on Craigslist for a new apartment in early May when she came across some tantalizing listings, all below market rates.
One three-bedroom located on the east side of Waterbury was only $800 a month. Another, ambiguously listed as being in “eastern CT,” was $550.
Barbera, a single mother with three children who says she can’t afford to live anywhere expensive, was ecstatic.
“The pictures were beautiful,” she says. “I was like, ‘yeah, I’m moving to Stamford!’”
What she didn’t know, however, was that none of these apartments was actually for rent. They were part of a newer type of Internet realty scam – one that has flourished in the recent housing crisis.
The scam puts a new spin on the classic “Nigerian prince” scheme. It first emerged in the press in July 2009, when the South Carolina division of the FBI issued a press release warning consumers in that state of a spate of faked apartment listings. The press release explained how these schemes work:
“Homeowners list their homes for sale with real estate agents, who will list the homes for sale in the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and also with public search websites, which allow individuals to query homes for sale via the Internet. Nigerian scammers find homes listed for sale on these public search sites, copy the pictures and listings verbatim, and then post the information onto Craigslist under available housing rentals, without the consent or knowledge of Craigslist, who has been notified.”
“After the posting is listed, unsuspecting individuals contact the poster, who is Nigerian, for more information on the ‘rental.’ The Nigerian scammer will state that they had to leave the country very quickly to do missionary or contract work in Africa and were unable to rent their house before leaving, therefore they have to take care of this remotely. The ‘homeowner’ sends the prospective renter an application and tells them to send them first and last month’s rent to the Nigerian scammer via Western Union. The prospective renter is further told if they ‘qualify,’ they will send them the keys for their house. Once the money is wired to the scammer, they show up at the house, see the home is actually for sale, are unable to access the property, and their money is gone.”
Since last year, the rental scams have spread across the United States, hitting everywhere from Washington to New York. The recession may be part of the reason for its success, since job losses and tightened incomes force many apartment hunters to look for the cheapest places available. Those desperate to find an apartment in a lower price range often have limited options, making them particularly vulnerable to fraudsters.
For Barbera, the first clue that something was wrong came when she tried to contact several of the supposed owners.
“They all had different email addresses,” she says. “But all of the replies came back with the same paragraphing, about how they were away on some missionary work. That kind of looked weird.”
After receiving the replies, Barbera checked Craigslist again, and found that the listings had been removed and replaced with a warning to consumers.
She says that she didn’t send the scammers any money or personal information.
“I was very frustrated by the whole thing. I really got my hopes up for a day or two,” she says.
Read the original article at the Hartford Examiner.