Three Bedrooms, $900. Beware of the Scam!

Justin Sullivan

Rent for the three-bedroom house was only $900, so said the ad. Soon, a Meriden real estate agent was taking calls from as far away as Arizona.

The problem was that the ad was fake.

It was one of several online scams posted on Craigslist advertising apartment and home rentals, according to the state Department of Consumer Protection.

“Apparently, someone had taken information from her real estate listing for a 3-bedroom home, created new email and Craigslist accounts and posted a bogus ad on Craigslist with the stolen photos and information,” Consumer Protection Commissioner Jerry Farrell Jr. said. “Any email responses to the fake ad offering the house for $900 per month were directed to the scammer’s email address.”

The fake ads might look legit. They come with contact information, an email address and sometimes a phone number. The ads get attention because they are “typically bargain-priced,” Farrell said.

Then things get a bit fishy. When a prospective renter responds, he gets an elaborate story about the “owner’s” need to rent very quickly. Then comes the request for an immediate deposit.

“Of course, if someone does send the deposit, it goes directly to a P.O. box or account belonging to the scammer, who then makes off with the money,” Farrell said.

The scammers apparently have easy access to the information they need to pull off the ruse – photos and information posted online.

The would-be renters got lucky in the Meriden case because the actual agent’s phone number was in the Craigslist ad, so together they were able to sort out the scheme.

“If you’re looking online for rentals, remember that anything that looks too good to be true is probably fake,” Farrell said. “Try to deal only with local people. Ask for a phone number, rather than communicating just by email. Don’t wire money, and be especially wary about sending a deposit out of the country or to a P.O. box.”

Farrell also recommends setting up a secondary e-mail account just for replying to ads, so spammers only get your secondary email.

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