Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Beware!! – Craigslist Scammers are Lurking!

craigslist scams

The Background

Craigslist is a great tool to find almost anything you are looking for. But with every great tool, there are always some pitfalls. Unfortunately, in this case that means unscrupulous scammers. This is occurring on eBay and other auction sites as well.

My experience with these scammers has occurred on numerous occasions this year due to personal rentals and listings that I had posted on Craigslist.

What they did in my case was to place ads on Craigslist with email accounts that they created using my name, supposedly lending authenticity to what they are doing. In a couple of cases they found old listings that I had and just copied those. In one case, they used the information on a home for sale that was placed, but had photos of a different property and were trying to rent it – go figure!

The Scenario

The scam usually involves a story that the person had to move out of the country for work, etc. The scenarios that I encountered at the beginning of the year involved them moving to England, but since then it’s been somewhere in Africa (lately Nigeria) and they’ll send you a link to a company that they supposedly work for, again hopefully trying to give more authentication to their story.

They would tell the potential renter to drive-by the house & if they were interested they should email them and they would be sent instructions on how to send the security deposit and then therefore receive the keys to the house. Usually the rents were set much lower than the market value as a way to entice people.

Being a REALTOR®, I was very lucky that I had my signs in the yard & people would call me, usually all excited because they thought they had found a great deal. Unfortunately, I’m aware of one person that did go through and send them money before contacting me.

Because of this, I knew that I had to do something and therefore contacted the local police where I live. They said that they couldn’t do anything but did help in leading me in the correct direction. I then contacted the police in the city where the property was located, Craigslist and also the Orange County Fraud Division, which sent me to the Internet Crime Complaint Center. What I learned from the later was totally astonishing and sad at the same time. It appears that they get at least a dozen calls a day from people that have been scammed via the Internet. I know this happens, but the enormity of it I couldn’t fathom.

Craigslist has a FAQ’s page with a lot of information. If you scroll down to the bottom of the page you can send them an email. Try to be as specific as possible. Once I did get in contact with someone, they had the ad pulled quickly.

What’s really sad is that the county’s Fraud Division said that there is very little they could do. I thought it would be easy and that they could track the IP address from where the post was initiated. These scammers are quite smart and even the address that they use for you to send them money are drop boxes and also untraceable from what I was told.

The one way that I was able get a handle on all this was to check the Craigslist category that I posted to and then search for the address. It was very helpful in putting some of this to rest.

I would suggest that you do not contact the person submitting these ads. They will simply just create another email account.

As was earlier stated, the scams run the gamut and not just isolated to Real Estate.

The Solutions

1. Deal only with local people that you can meet whether they are a buyer or seller

2. NEVER wire money and that includes Western Union or any other wire service

3. Fake Money Orders or Cashier Checks are not as uncommon as you may think – you will be held responsible if your bank discovers it not to be authentic.

4. Just because they are using an ‘Escrow Service’ such as PayPal, Authorize.Net, SquareTrade or others does not in any way guarantee the service or product.

5. NEVER give out any of your information whether it is financial, social security number, etc.

The long and short of it is that you should trust your instincts. If it’s too good to be true – it probably is. If you have a queasy feeling about something – then listen to yourself.

REMEMBER - ‘Caveat Emptor’ – Let the Buyer Beware!!

Yes, there are some lovely people are out there. If they put this much effort into a real job, imagine how successful they might be, but....

Till next time….Marc It Sold!

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