Realtors in Huntsville, Alabama have reported that the city is being targeted by a real estate scam. The fraud reportedly utilizes a common hoax in which criminals copy and post pictures of existing properties for sale on the popular website. The fraudsters then pose as the property’s owner, stealing hundreds from prospective tenants who fall for the scam.
The scam is simple but sophisticated: the false ads use pictures and information posted on a local real estate website to create what appear to be legitimate rental advertisements with one difference: the price shown is an amazing bargain. In the past 18 months, numerous people have attempted to take advantage of these affordable listings, sending out the security deposit, first month’s rent, and other normal charges without meeting the owner or seeing the house in person. However, the con artists do not own the houses in question, nor have the authority to rent them. The victims typically only realize they have been the victim of a crime on when the keys and rental contract do not arrive as promised.
The phone numbers posted in the Craigslist ads are typically non-local. When contacted, the purported owner claims to be able to charge less for the property because they are not using a professional property management service. So far, one couple looking for property has lost $2,000, while others have lost smaller, but still sizable amounts; another couple lost $850.
Real estate agents in Huntsville estimate that at least 25 illegitimate property listings have appeared on Craigslist in the past 18 months. While they are typically not refunding the money lost in the scam, real estate firms are reportedly instructing to file complaints with the police if they become aware of any false listings. At least one agent cautioned prospective home buyers and tenants that this scam is becoming more and more popular, an opinion that seems likely as the world becomes increasingly used to utilizing the Internet for buying and selling, often through websites like Craigslist.