Craigslist Provides Foundation for Real Estate Scams

By: Gary Isom, Executive Director of the Arkansas Real Estate Commission

It first came to our attention in January 2011. A complaint was filed against an Arkansas broker. As it turned out, the broker was as much a victim as was the consumer who filed the complaint.

The broker had a property listed for sale. An unscrupulous individual lifted the property information and placed a separate ad on Craigslist, offering it for rent at a rate far below market. The complainant responded to the advertisement and was told that he should wire a deposit immediately. Unfortunately, the complainant chose to wire the deposit funds, only to learn that he had been scammed and his money was gone.

Through communications with other state’s licensing agencies, we’ve learned that variations of this scam are occurring nationwide. Another recently surfaced in Arkansas. This one involved an email which actually appeared to be from the owner/seller of the property. The property was listed with a broker. The content of the email is as follows:

“Thank you for contacting me confirming your interest in my house. My house is Available for Rent and Move in ASAP, I also have available the RENT TO OWN Option…I relocated from my Home 2 Months ago when I got a better job out of state..I’m giving the rent out low because I just need someone to help take care of the house. It’s not about the money..It’s about finding someone that will take care of the house like they own it.

 

My house is (address omitted) & Its available for rent at $700/Per Month *Covering all the Utilities* …There’s also the payment of the REFUNDABLE Security Deposit of $700…

Please note that I would not be available to do a one on one showing because I am very busy here…and I also do not want to involve any 3rd party because I want a good Landlord-Tenant relationship I also have other applicants but…you can take a drive by monitoring the surroundings and neighborhood and also look through the windows to see the interiors of the house, it’s currently available for move in and get back to me if you are willing to get started with the Application/Rental process.

QUICK NOTE :- Kindly ignore the for sale sign in the yard, because my initial plan was to sell the house…Right now my house is no more for sale, I am putting it up for rent to get a serious tenant to rent the house and take care of my property. Also the keys are here with me because I had to take them back from the agent that almost ruin my name and that is why I am handling this myself as I do not trust anyone to drop my keys with.

 

According to the broker who sent this email to me, this property would likely rent for $2,000 to $2,800 per month, so the scammer makes the property very appealing to a potential tenant at $700 per month. That’s the first red flag. Note also the last paragraph advises the recipient NOT to contact the listing broker. That’s the second red flag. Another sign that the offer is not legitimate is the sense of urgency combined with the fact that the supposed owner will not be present to show the property. If the recipient of the email called the number provided, it’s likely they would have been asked to wire funds for the deposit. The money and scammer would then disappear for good.

One of our recent broker Commissioners Karen Crowson relayed a story to me that unfortunately is not uncommon. Karen received a call from a client friend whose daughter was moving out of state to attend school. Karen’s friend told her that the daughter had found a place to rent on Craigslist. The daughter had not met the owner who was on a two-year missionary trip to South Africa. Being suspicious, Karen immediately looked the property up in the Multiple Listing Service and contacted the out-of-state listing broker. The property was a bank foreclosure, was still listed for sale and was not available for rent. Karen advised her friend to contact her daughter and tell her not to send any money. It was too late. The $600 deposit had already been wired through Western Union.  So the money was gone, the missionary owner was nowhere to be found and the daughter had to find another place to rent.

As the old saying goes “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” If you have questions as to whether a real estate offer on Craigslist is legitimate, call someone – besides the individual who placed the ad – before sending any money. You can reach the Real Estate Commission at (501) 683-8010.

 

 

House to House is distributed weekly by the Arkansas REALTORS® Association.  For more information on homeownership in Arkansas, readers may visit www.ArkansasRealtors.com.