Renting a House on Craigslist? Don’t Get Scammed

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A free classified site where people can sell and rent things anonymously? What could possibly go wrong?

More than 100 years ago, con artists repeatedly “sold” the Brooklyn Bridge to people with more money than sense. Nowadays, it seems unlikely people would fall for that — unless, maybe, it was posted on Craigslist.

A couple who planned an out-of-town wedding found a great rental on there for its nine-person wedding party to crash in, a Seattle TV station says. They paid $3,000 but when they showed up, they were told it was already rented — to someone else, by someone else.

The family that really owns it says someone copied their rental ad from another site and posted it with different contact information, and that it happened three times already despite their efforts to flag such posts.

A Raleigh TV station has a similar story, where a scammer was “renting out” one man’s for-sale property, using an email address that includes the actual owner’s name. A blogger has a similar story at AARP, along with advice on how to set up an automatic notification of when someone tries to imitate your property on Craigslist.

What if you want to find a property and you’re not sure if a listing is legitimate? Here are some tips:

  • Look for photos. If they can’t show you the place at all, that’s a bad sign. But it’s easy to grab photos of some other place, so at least map the address in Bing or Google and check that the exterior shots match what you see in the street view image.
  • See before you buy. Especially if you’re using a free classified site where there’s no verification at all of whom you’re dealing with, you should meet the landlord and see the place before handing over money. Yep, that’s inconvenient if you’re planning an out-of-town rental — and scammers bank on people not doing it.
  • Don’t use a wire service like Western Union. Craigslist’s scam tips say that “anyone who asks you to do so is likely a scammer.” Don’t give out your financial information, either.

Also check out our story, “5 Online Rental Scams and How to Avoid Them.”

Stacy Johnson

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