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BBB: Rental scammers make Craigslist their home

  • Special to The Eagle
  • Published Saturday, March 30, 2013, at 7 a.m.
  • Updated Saturday, March 30, 2013, at 7:02 a.m.

Craigslist users are used to the convenience and low cost of the person-to-person marketplace. Unfortunately some transactions turn out to be scammer-to-person instead.

Two types of scams in particular are aimed at moderate- to low-income individuals looking for a place to rent or for a roommate to share living expenses.

The recent victimization of a consumer in Omaha who lost $2,500 reveals the workings of a roommate scammer.

The Omaha World-Herald recently reported the story of a resident who answered a Craigslist profile ad that purported to be from a Canadian seeking to relocate to Omaha.

“AnnMarie” convinced the consumer that she would be a reliable roommate and sent money orders totaling $2,796 to cover rent and moving expenses.

The victim deposited the money in her own account and, as instructed by “AnnMarie,” sent $1,650 by MoneyGram to a San Diego “mover.” Supposedly the mover had halted his moving trip until he received the payment. More requests for payments soon came, saying the mover had miscalculated the amount and needed an additional sum.

Suspicion finally led the victim to try to call “AnnMarie.” She found the phone number to be available only for text messaging. Her bank informed her that the money orders were fake and she was responsible for paying back the funds herself. The victim was reported to be “desperately struggling and scared.” The scammer even went so far as to taunt the victim after being found out.

Roommate scams happen two ways. As in the case of “AnnMarie,” the scammer can place a fake profile ad on Craigslist and wait to hook victims like the Omaha woman.

The other method is for the scammer to respond to a legitimate ad seeking a roommate. Either way, the intent is devious and sometimes devastating.

The Better Business Bureau warns that any correspondence requesting advance payment, wire-transferred funds or prepaid debit cards like the Green Dot card should be viewed skeptically.

Craigslist also has provided a home for scammers who post listings of terrific-sounding residences that are for rent at reasonable rates. These scammers usually are trying to swindle you out of a fee for a fictional credit check or they want to steal your identity.

The consumerist.com website has identified five signs that an ad for a rental house is a scam:

• The house sounds wonderful and there are no photos. There may be legitimate listings that don’t post photos or addresses, but generally the practice should raise a red flag.

• The e-mail used by the person who posted the listing does not sound like a person’s name. That may be an indicator that it is an auto-generated e-mail account, preferred because they are difficult to trace.

• The ad promises that the owner will pay for an overly generous number of things like lawn care and trash service. They may promise that pets are OK and deposits are low or payable in installments. This type of ad is obviously created to appeal to the maximum number of potential victims.

• There is a promise that bad credit and even a few previous ejections are no problem. That means they are after victims who have little money and are down on their luck.

• They aren’t willing to reveal the house’s address until you reply to their ad, perhaps by going to a website and filling out a “free credit report.” That report’s sole purpose is to steal your identity.

The Better Business Bureau warns that while there are bargains on Craigslist, there also are scammers. Keep the above tips in mind when you search for a roommate or for a rental on the site.

If you have questions, contact the bureau at 800-856-2417 or visit the website at www.kansasplains.bbb.org.

Denise Groene is the state director of the Better Business Bureau.

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