Monday, February 1, 2010

Craigslist Internet house-rental scam making the rounds in area

From the Ithaca Journal:

[T]he scammers cull real estate Web sites, replicate home sale ads and post them to Craigslist -- with their own e-mail address -- under housing rentals without Craigslist's knowledge.

The scammers sometimes ask for credit and work histories and Social Security numbers, which are used to commit identity fraud. Craigslist was notified, the FBI added, cautioning renters to deal only with local landlords, be wary if asked to only use a wire-transfer service, be suspicious of e-mails written in poor or broken English, be wary of ads with rental prices significantly lower than the average area rates, and to not reveal personal data like Social Security, bank account, or credit card numbers.

Police are investigating a recent case involving Seneca and Tompkins Counties:

The crime involved an Ithaca house advertised for rent, with pictures, on Craigslist, the victim said. He and his fiancée went to the address, saw that it matched the pictures and was vacant, and expressed interest via the e-mail address listed in the ad.

According to the victim's account, a man claiming to be the owner replied, saying that he and his wife belonged to a local church, were working as missionaries in Nigeria and needed tenants to house-sit. The man gave him his and his wife's names.

They spoke on the phone and he agreed to send a $1,166 security deposit via Western Union, and the man gave a FedEx tracking number and promised to send the keys. He sent the money Saturday, but when he went to the house again, he found a man and woman moving in.

When he called the man back, the scammer made excuses and tried to say the other couple was actually moving out. The victim reported the crime to the Seneca County Sheriff's Office, which is turning the case over to the Ithaca Police Department.

Any one who believes he or she was the victim of an internet scam should make sure to contact law enforcement and, if appropriate, an attorney of their own choosing to review their legal rights.