Scammers hijacking CraigsList ads in latest scam to bilk consumers

By Janelle MacDonald - bio | email

LOUISVILLE (WAVE) - A scam designed to separate you from your hard-earned money is using popular online sites to reel you in. This latest attempt is targeting home or apartment renters and landlords, and actually hijacks legitimate ads. WAVE 3's Janelle MacDonald investigates.

We first became aware of this scam when one of our own employees was looking for a rental home and got back several questionable emails after answering an ad on CraigsList.

After we started asking some questions, we found out how many rental properties have already been targeted.

Our employee had answered an ad on CraigsList for a rental house, and got an email in response. It started out: "Thanks for your email and it is my gladness hearing from you."

The listing was for a a 3-bedroom, 2-and-a-half bath house in Hikes Point - just $700 a month - a bargain too good to pass up.

The email continues: "I am Mr. Christine, the owner of the house you are making enquiry (sic) of."

We tracked down the landlord of the home. But it wasn't Mr. Christine - it was Christine Sager, and she told us she has never advertised on CraigsList. And she's asking $1,200 a month, not $700 for the home.

The same thing happened to another landlord, Ed Gibson, and his $2,000 a month rental. "We were getting phone calls from people saying 'we'd like to look at the house. And I said 'OK.' And he says, 'is it still available for $1,500?'"

Landlord Dick Vreeland had a similar experience. "They dropped the price. They took a picture of a house that looked like it was from California," Vreeland said. "The décor in it wasn't Louisville, Kentucky, let's put it that way."

Gibson filed a police report. Police investigated and determined the person who hijacked his ad was likely from overseas.

Our other fake landlord "Mr. Christine" says he's in West Africa.

Rob Massey, a landlord and consultant for rentals.com, says "you typically see the fraud on the free listing services because someone who's involved in this does not want to pay for one thing. It may be traceable who they are."

Massey says scams like this are all over the Internet and "you just need to have your guard up. I think a lot of people assume from the beginning that it's legit and then it goes down a path."

In many cases, the emailers are hoping the potential renter will send money; other times, they're simply looking for personal information.

Either way, Massey says renters can protect themselves by doing some research.

Massey says "they can take some of the exact script from the ad on CraigsList and they can Google it and what will happen is if it's listed somewhere else legitimately, it will bring that ad up."

So in this case, as always, the "if it sounds too good to be true it probably is" rule applies.

Massey says it often takes several red flags on CraigsList to have an ad removed.

If you run across similar ads, you can flag them and also contact the Federal Trade Commission to alert them to the scam. The number to call is: 877-FTC-HELP or 877-382-4357.

WAVE 3 wants to help you avoid a scam if you are looking to rent on CraigsList. The site says it can't vouch for any ad, but has tips on how to avoid a scam and what to do if you feel you are a victim. The link to those tips is prominently posted on CraigsList, and you can also view them by visiting: http://www.craigslist.org/about/scams.html.