Sheriff Grady Judd and Polk County Sheriff’s Identity Theft Task Force detectives have received several reports recently concerning a new and serious real estate scam utilizing the free online advertising service “Craigslist.”
Suspects, usually located overseas in remote areas that make it difficult for U.S. law enforcement to prosecute, copy ads found elsewhere on the Internet for properties for sale or rent by real estate agencies, including the pictures, addresses, and descriptions of the properties, and then re-post them on Craigslist for well below market value under their name or fake business.
Buyers who fall for the hoax send the full purchase price or a deposit to the suspect’s bank account, and wait for contracts or deeds to be delivered. Meanwhile, the “seller” takes the money and never contacts the buyer again. Suspects often receive money from several buyers on the same falsely advertised piece of property.
This is a variation of the well-known “Nigerian scam,” which entails conning people into sending or wiring money overseas.
Here are some warning signs to avoid scams such as this:
· Scam "bait" items include apartments, laptops, TVs, cell phones, tickets, and other high value items
· Common countries currently include: Nigeria, Romania, United Kingdom, Ukraine, Spain, Italy, Netherlands - but could be anywhere
· Apartment listing may be local, but landlord/owner is "travelling" or "relocating" and needs you to wire money to them abroad
· Deal often seems too good to be true: the price is too low, the rent is below market value, etc.
· There is a sense of urgency – scam artists count on decisions made in haste
Here are some tips from Identity Theft detectives to avoid being victimized:
· Only deal with landlords or renters local to you.
· Do a web search for the renter's name to see what comes up.
· Do a web search for the property address to see if there are other, legitimate listings
Craigslist advises the following information in order to help avoid scams:
DEAL LOCALLY WITH PEOPLE YOU CAN MEET IN PERSON - follow this one rule and avoid 99% of scam attempts on Craigslist.
NEVER WIRE FUNDS VIA WESTERN UNION, MONEYGRAM or any other wire service - anyone who asks you to do so is a scammer.
CRAIGSLIST IS NOT INVOLVED IN ANY TRANSACTION, and does not handle payments, guarantee transactions, provide escrow services, or offer "buyer protection" or "seller certification"
NEVER GIVE OUT FINANCIAL INFORMATION (bank account number, social security number, eBay/PayPal info, etc.)
AVOID DEALS INVOLVING SHIPPING OR ESCROW SERVICES and know that ONLY A SCAMMER WILL "GUARANTEE" YOUR TRANSACTION.
DO NOT RENT HOUSING WITHOUT SEEING THE INTERIOR, OR PURCHASE EXPENSIVE ITEMS SIGHT-UNSEEN - in all likelihood that housing unit is not actually for rent and that cheap item does not exist.
DO NOT SUBMIT TO CREDIT CHECKS OR BACKGROUND CHECKS FOR A JOB OR FOR HOUSING UNTIL YOU HAVE MET THE INTERVIEWER OR LANDLORD/AGENT IN PERSON.
How to report a scam:
Contact the Internet Fraud Complaint Center at WWW.IC3.gov or The Federal Trade Commission at WWW.FTCcomplaintassistant.gov/
For further information regarding Scams check out WWW.FTC.gov or contact your local law enforcement agency. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office can be reached at 863.298.6200.