As a result of a case of attempted identity theft of ABC reporter Mark Curtis, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin is warning consumers in Rhode Island of a serious new scam perpetrated on www.craigslist.org.
As reported by Mark Curtis, scam artists are posting fake rental properties on CraigsList, luring people to provide personal information – including social security numbers and bank account routing and credit card numbers – on false rental agreements.
It appears that scam artists are "cloning" properties that are listed for sale from a various legitimate real estate services, like MLS, and listing them on CraigsList as rental properties at very attractive rents. All communication between the "landlord" and possible tenants are done through email. Interested renters have been known to drive by the property and, in Mark's case, walk around and look inside the property through the windows.
Once scam artists hook their targets, they will ask for personal information, such as a social security number to run a background check, or ask the proposed tenant to fill out and return a rental agreement with a down payment paid by credit card or directly from a checking account.
"Even informed and knowledgeable consumers can fall victim to these sophisticated scams. They prey on people's dreams of living in a beautiful property at a steal of a price," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "Thankfully, in this case, Mark became suspicious and knew to contact a legitimate broker, the police and the Office of Attorney General. Coming forward with information about scams is the best way we have to protect others by shining the light on the scam and giving the public the tools they need to shut them down."
Here are some tips to avoid the CraigsList rental scam:
If communication is initiated via the Internet, insist on a phone number to contact the landlord/broker directly.
These scam artists operate on the Internet and will often refuse to give or avoid providing information over the phone.
Insist on meeting the landlord/broker in person at the property or in a public location before providing any documentation or personal information.
When visiting the property try to see it in day light and bring a trusted friend.
Make sure you know who actually owns the advertised property.
Visit a local real estate agent and inquire about the property. Most real estate agents know what properties are for sale and/or rent in their communities.
Make sure you physically tour the property inside and out before you give funds to someone. • Be leery if the listing mentions the owner is out of the country or about to leave the country and needs to rent the property right away
Never wire funds to the potential landlord.
Get a written lease and read it carefully
Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
If you believe you were a victim of one of these scams, please contact the federal Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov and notify Craigslist at www.craigslist.org to request they can pull the posting off their website.