When hard times arise, so does crime.
The latest real estate scam strikes at people who are struggling to find a home they can afford in a nice neighborhood. The fraudulent “owners” find a house for sale that appears to be vacant, look up the owner's name, then advertise it on Craigslist or Hotpads or other free websites as being for rent for a really great price. The ad has an email/phone that goes to them, not the real owner. The “victim,” a.k.a. prospective tenant, is told to go look through the windows and see if they want to rent the property. Then they are advised that they can secure the property by sending a money order to a particular address.
If you think about it, this is almost as lame as the prince of some distant African kingdom needing your help to obtain his inheritance. The prospective tenant goes to the property, sees the Realtor’s for sale sign, calls the Realtor and finds out that the deal is a scam, and does not send the money to the fraudulent owner.
One woman told us that she lead the scammer on for a little why and he told her to just peek in the windows of the house "since he is in Washington and his wife the "minister" is in Texas so they wouldn't be able to meet her. He told her he would send her the keys and rental documents via overnight mail if she wired him $2400 through Western Union.
Here's the basic response that people get when they inquire on what looks like an amazing rental deal (click to view larger):
What can I do? I have reported the ad as a scam and the website has not removed the ad. I am not a detective or a law enforcement officer. All I’ve thought of so far is to courteously tell every person who calls me that it is for sale not for lease and to congratulate them that they are smart enough to check on a story that sounded too good to be true. And to write this blog to let you know what goes on out there.
The only thing that really can be done is to spread the word about these scams so people can recognize them when they happen. Please forward this on!