My Property Fell Prey to a Craigslist Rental Scam: Here’s How I Handled It

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Recently, a nice gentleman called my office and asked me if the long term rental which was being advertised on Craigslist was legitimate or not. I explained to the gentleman I had no idea what he was talking about and that my company does not advertise anything on Craigslist. He went on to tell me what the ad said and even showed me where I could view it for myself.

When I went on Craigslist, I was shocked to find that a rental house my wife and I owned was being advertised on Craigslist. A scam artist was offering the house for $1,000 a month (we rent the house out for $2,800 a month). He wrote in the article that he received a really nice promotion at work, and he was not going to be back in Orlando for a couple years. He wanted his good fortune of landing such a good promotion to help another family out… what a joke.

Here is how I protected myself when one of our homes was being offered as a scam on Craigslist.

Related: Another Day, Another Real Estate Scammer Busted: $20M Scam Shut Down!

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How I Handled a Craigslist Rental Scam

Contacted Police

After finding the advertisement online, I quickly called the local police department to file a report. An officer came out to the rental property to write a report, but he told me other than filing a report, there was little to nothing he could do. While I was filling out the report with the officer, two potential renters drove up and asked if the house was still for rent for $1,000 a month. I told them the house was for rent, but not for $1,000.

Tried to Contact Craigslist

I looked all over the Craigslist website to find a customer service number to have the ad removed, but all I could find was a general email address. I also noticed where you can go in and mark any ad as SPAM or “inaccurate,” which I did, but the response to the ad removal was very slow.

Put Up a Legitimate Advertisement on Craigslist

I put up my own offer on Craigslist using the exact same pictures the scam artist was using. In the description, I said that this house is being offered by a scam artist for $1,000 a month, but the real rental value is $2,800 a month. I asked for people to please call the owner for a viewing, and then I left my cell phone number.

Put a “For Rent” Sign in the Yard

I put a “For Rent” sign in the yard with big bold letters stating the monthly rental amount plus my local phone number. I also put up a sign on the front and side door explaining that this house is not being advertised on Craigslist for $1,000 a month and that if a potential renter saw that advertisement, it was a scam.

Notified My Neighbors

I am really lucky that I have a lot of great neighbors, and I called each of them to explain the situation and ask them if any potential renters inquired about the property to please let those people know that if they saw the advertisement on Craigslist that it was a scam.

Related: Real Estate Gurus Promoting Other Guru Courses and Events – a Scam?

What I Learned

All in all, I learned a couple of things through this ordeal.

  • Craigslist Can Drive Potential Renters: I was actually surprised at how many people came by to see the house and told me or my neighbors that they saw the house advertised on Craigslist.
  • Buyer Beware: I found that there is very little that is being done to stop these types of scams from going on now or in the future. The police told me up front that the person doing this is probably not from the area, and they are not going to put a lot of resources into catching the scam artist. In addition, they told me that the buyer must beware, especially when they are purchasing something on Craigslist.
  • Craigslist is No Help: I actually kept going on Craigslist for two weeks, flagging new ads that the scam artist was putting up. You would think after the same ad got flagged ten times, someone might look into it.

All in all, I was lucky no one actually got scammed, and I found a great family to rent our house to. But when you are a man who prides himself in treating people fairly and being very ethical, it is a bit disturbing to see one of the rental houses you own be used by a scam artist to dupe people out of their money.

Have you ever heard of this scam before? How would you have handled it?

Leave your comments and stories below!

About Author

Trey Duling

Trey Duling has been managing and marketing vacation homes in the Orlando and Disney World area since 2001. His passion is helping investors make their vacation homes more profitable. Please visit his website at http://www.orlandovacation.com/home-rentals/.

44 Comments

  1. Barry O.

    I was managing a property in a local high rent area and the same happened to me. A person called and asked if I was the owner. She stated that a person in another ad told her to disregard the number and sign. Have a locks smith change the locks and deduct the amount from the rent to be forwarded by Wire.
    I explained to her that it was a scam, posted a disclaimer on Craigslist and carefully monitored the site until the house was rented.
    The scammer had even gone so far as to use my photos of the house. But used the same MO. cut the rent asking price by 1/2. Plenty of people will jump on that even knowing it probably false. Something for nothing!

  2. Nathan Buss

    I don’t understand what the scam artist stands to gain from this practice. If you are advertising someone else’s property there is no way for you to rent out the unit. You said you are so glad no one got scammed but how can they? You own the property and you are the only one who is able to rent it out and collect rent for it.

    • Well, the individual could meet the potential renter and collect the deposit and rent but it would be odd to rent a place site unseen. However, someone coming from out of town might send an advance to have the property held for them. I suppose you could get leads for your own property that way but that is a stretch too. The author did say one potential renter was told to just go change the lock and deduct it from rent so perhaps the scammer is banking on someone paying rent and a deposit and changing the lock to get in all while the property remains vacant. The minute the owner shows up, the chit hits the fan, the scammer keeps whatever they got and becomes unavailable.

    • Mike Grayford

      This happens to flippers, too. The scammer has the potential renter send them deposit money and, if they are lucky, rental money too. The renter doesn’t know who the landlord is, and often is not thinking to look up the actual owner of the house. They are just happy to be getting such a good deal.
      Another thing you should do to help avoid this is to post pictures with your name and phone number watermarked across the photos.

    • Gordon Weakliem

      Doing a little research, aside from picking up the deposit, these scammers are frequently doing identity theft, so they’ll get a applicants to fill out an application with name, drivers license number, SSN, maybe even a bank account number. The ID theft can be more lucrative than any rental, and the real owner is just the means to get at the victims.

      • Excellent advice, I’ve been looking for a rental in my own small town of 6,000 pop & was shocked that virtually every CL ad was a scam! Now I’ve become expert on sniffing them out. I’ve learned that if it’s priced low, it isn’t bc the owner is generous. Another tip off is flowery descriptions, spelling & grammar errors, usually a sign that English is not the scammer’s native language. One simple thing to do is check public records via Internet or at city hall & see if the owner’s name matched the name you were given. Before you close a deal ask to see a photo I.D.

    • Their motivation is short term gain. They get potential renters to pay a deposit (usually wire transfer) and promise to meet them at the house or give them entry info (send a key or code) after final or first month’s rent. Then the listing on Craigslist disappears, along with the potential renter’s money. I know this because it has happened with my property 4 times in the last 6 months.

      Craigslist has been NO help. The only thing that has helped is having my own listing with the words “SCAM ALERT” in red over the picture.

  3. James Hiddle

    Wow sorry that your house was part of a scam. Glad you got it rented out but it sucks to see this stuff go on and it’s becoming a common problem that unfortunately isn’t going to go away anytime soon. Craigslist can be a useful tool for not only investors but for those searching for property to either rent or buy either as an investment or as a dwelling but it can also be used for evil purposes as it was in your case Trey.

    I think caveat emptor is defiantly needed when it comes to buying (or renting)almost anything especially on places like Craigslist and Ebay. I think renters need to start doing some due diligence and check local market rents and if something looks good to be true(ie rents lower then the market rents in the area)then it probably is and they need to proceed with caution and start checking things out.

  4. David Krulac

    Had several experiences. On one my house was listed for sale on craigslist. I did call the police and they did not want to get involved, they said it was a civil matter and they only handle criminal matters. they said I should contact my attorney and possible sue the offending party.

    Craigslist was no help, they seem to foster this kind of behavior.

    In another case a property was being offered for sale by somebody on craigslist in CA. Their ad said that they were missionary and going to Africa. They told any one interested to go look at the house and if looked it to send them a deposit in CA and they would mail back the keys. Different police department said they would look into the matter, but nobody was arrested.

  5. Linda Smith

    I am curious what might have happened if someone fell for the scam and started moving in before you caught wind of it? How would you deal with a situation like that? Especially when the rent difference is so great.

  6. Dawn Anastasi

    I use Craigslist all the time. What I do is not post any external pictures of the property and do not post the address, only the general cross streets. I have never had a scammer steal my rental property info since then.

    • Hello,
      Just out of curiosity, have you heard of burglars breaking-and-entering into homes using external pics from ads ? So, without trying to rent it out, just using the pics to break in ? I’d be curious to hear your concerns about showing external pics, in general.
      Best,
      Cathleen

  7. James Hiddle

    I did call the police and they did not want to get involved, they said it was a civil matter and they only handle criminal matters.

    That’s ridiculous. What they don’t think that scamming people isn’t a crime?

    And Mike that’s a good idea on watermarking your name and phone # but I’ll go as far as also put your company name as well providing you have one.

  8. Jerry W.

    Thanks for the tips. I have only recently started using Craigslist, but I aware of a big lawsuit against them for allowing an add that got a woman raped in Wyoming. EBay does a pretty good job of monitoring, Craigslist does not.

  9. Mindy Jensen

    In defense of Craigslist, they are completely free. They have so many ads it would be impossible to keep up. I think Dawn Anastasio’s idea to post interior pics only, coupled with Mike Grayford’s idea to watermark all your images with your name and phone number would seriously cut down on getting scammed.

    Thanks for sharing your story, Trey.

  10. Kimberly T.

    This happened to us when we were trying to SELL (yes, sell) my grandmother’s house after she passed away a couple years ago. Our listing agent had the for sale ads up online plus his big sign out front, and someone used some of the pictures from the for sale ad to post fake rent ads online. Our listing agent started getting calls about the house for rent, and once he confirmed with me that we weren’t trying to rent it out ourselves, he contacted the scammer and told him to knock it off, and he and I both flagged all the scam ads we could find online (on various websites). Fortunately, the house sold quickly and it became a non-issue pretty fast.

    People should be aware that this issue is not unique to craigslist, nor is it unique to rental ads.

    • This is exact situation happened to me today! The “rental” ad scammer even had the balls to put my name in the ad, that I was the landlord and renting it out. We flagged it and there is already an offer in but it’s a short sale so it will take a while to get through the process but now I know to keep my eyes open and will check on line every day for any more “rental” posts!

  11. ken gurta

    I would also try to contact the scamer by posing as renter of your own house. Maybe if you were able to get enough contact info such as a phone number or e mail, you could do a search to find out who this person is. There are various sites that can do this for you. You might have to pay a small fee of three to ten dollars. I have sold things on Craigslist a few times. Whenever someone appears serious, as in leaving their phone number, I will contact them and then send my phone number in return.

    I don’t like leaving “For Rent” signs in the front yard. It tells everyone that this house is empty. I once had this sign in the front yard of a house that I was trying to rent. Young kids tore apart part of the fence in hopes of getting through the back door wall. They were unsuccessful, but it cost me about $100.00 to repair the fence.

  12. Doug W.

    This happened when my flip went back onto the market for sale. Someone drove up and called my agent (via the sign in the yard) and said she was very interested. The girl said that she had spoke to the owner but he wasn’t available to let her into the property and then she asked if the agent would let her in. It’s the same as your stories – they used the professional photos and notes from the listing. I never bothered looking the ad up myself.

    • Darren Sager

      I’ve done this before. IT’s the same thing like the emails from the Nigerians. They make you send them money and you never see them. It’s a total scam and little you can do. I had one person ask me if it was okay for them to move in the following week when she called my number on the sign out front. I was confused at first, then realizing that she fell victim to the scam. So sad but who would ever give anyone money that didn’t ask for an application first or even get a chance to view the unit.

  13. They set up these kinds of scams to sell houses as well. There was a house my neighborhood listed on Zillow for 10K. I knew they had been trying to sell the house a few years earlier for 29K, so I called them. Here was the message I got back:

    “The main reason our house is up for SALE is because I got transferred from my place of work to GEORGIA, I and my family will be away for at least a couple of 18 to 19 years, so that is why i decided selling my property out in a cheaper price, so as to get a buyer asap, i wont be back in state to show you the property,and also i got nobody in town right now, this is the only way i can sell my home out to you ok, i will be mailing the keys and documents of my home via FedEx company down to your present home address, you have to secure my home first with a deposit of $1,850, so as to get my keys sent out to you via FedEx and also your money is refundable once you get my keys and you dont like the inside you tell me and i refund your money back and you send me my keys back ok, but once you view the inside of my property and you love what you see, we can then go from there, i will get the necessary documents of my home mail out to you then for you to sign,after we are done with that, you can then come up with the balance of the payments ok..”

    He then goes on to tell me a bunch of nonsense about his family and asks me for details about his own. It was signed Mr. and Mrs. Jones. Yeah, right.
    I noticed the same house was up for rent on zillow for the $725 which i knew to be the right price for a 3bdrm 1 ba house in my neighborhood. So I sent a message to real landlord and told him about the scam.

  14. Jerry Kaidor on

    …and if somebody rents your house from the scammer and moves in – then you find out – and the renter digs in their heels? Then you have to EVICT them. Ick.

  15. scott stevens on

    They basically will have you apply through email and ask for a deposit to send out the house keys. We strung along a scammer doing this in another state and wasted their time.

  16. Jon Tyler

    Unfortunately, I’ve had this happen more than once. Did the same things the author did and got the same response.

    I do post on craigslist and other sites, but now I “watermark” all my images with my name and phone number in LARGE letters. Haven’t noticed any scammer postings of my listings since.

  17. I saw one of my own rentals on Craig’s. I asked for a showing, expecting the person to show up. All they did was send a link to apply for $40.

    I suspect that at some point, I may have been ‘approved’ and a holding fee would have been required. The person who was advertising my unit was probably in a foreign country.

    • People who have been scammed on my property report that they “talked” through text and email. If they did talk on the phone, they said he had an “accent.” I suspect they have a call center overseas and are just raking in the money, $40-$1000 at a time. Sad.

  18. Brian Burke

    I’ve had this happen to me many times. One time I filed a report with the sheriff’s department. Fortunately I have connections there so I got straight through to the detective bureau and they got a search warrant for the email address and phone number in the scammers post. Both ended up in dead ends at some Nigerian black hole. Case closed.

    There’s little you can do to stop them unfortunately. Watermark on the pictures is a great idea but doesn’t stop them from using a Google street view screen capture. Best defense is for users of Craigslist to use common sense and not send rental applications and deposits to people they haven’t met in person and determined to actually be the manager or owner. These criminals wouldn’t do these scams if it weren’t paying off.

    • Scott Stevens on

      Brian,

      Bingo! Americans are probably too busy playing Angry Birds and Candy Crush and feeling like they\’re informed by watching liars like Brian Williams to have enough sense to avoid scams like this. Maybe it\’s a wake up call to them when it does happen.

  19. Tim Davids

    No one said it yet so I will.

    Put alarm systems in your houses. While your working I them and especially when rehabbed and sitting empty. You can have mobile notifications sent instantly after someone entered the house.

    For about $40 a month it could save you a ton of crap to deal with.

  20. WAYNE G.

    Zillow likes to have an actual address. So I give them one that is greater than any number on the street. In the ad copy I state it is not the actual address. (Street is only 1 block long.) If someone wants to break in, they won’t find the house, unless I post pictures of outside.

    Simplisafe provides monitoring for ~$20/mo with SMS notification and multiple disarm codes. Great for knowing when a particular contractor shows up. For rehabbers it is easy to move system from house to house.
    For landlords it is an “extra” you can add for additional rental income.

  21. Kenneth Sok

    I also had this happen on my rental. They even listed my neighbor’s property but used my property’s pictures!

    I was told to report to the FBI. It sucks but it’s hard for the FBI to track these things and even harder to prosecute. Hopefully if we all can contribute and make a concerted effort to dissuade these scammers, then they’ll look for other easier niches to scam and leave us alone.

  22. Tim Gilman

    Thank you for sharing your story. Craigslist can be a helpful site but there are tons of scams. Back when I attended college I came across one of these scams when looking for a rental. I had the good sense to know something was wrong and warn the owners.

  23. Maryellen Reed on

    I had the same thing happen. The scam artist was using the same story, that he had to move out of the area very quickly to accept a job in California and for the prospective tenant to ride by and look in the windows. I had 5 different people call. I called the police. There was nothing they could do. What is really creepy about the scam artist was that they were using my husband’s name. They must have gone so far as to study the tax records. I look at this as identify theft. The one person thought it was legitimate…my name on the sign. She calls the number they gave her and the man has the same last name.

  24. This happened to me today. My parents are looking for a place to rent and I found an ad on Craigslist that was email only I emailed him my phone number and he called one day later … No sorry he text . I talked to him all day on txt and filled out a rental application through email then he told me we could only drive by and look because he had the keys and paperwork with him in Mississippi. I had thought he was responding to a voicemail I left from an ad I saw on the church bulletin board once things sounded odd… Send me the deposit and first month rent and we will mail you the keys because we’re on a mission trip in Mississippi… I got suspicious and typed the address into Craigslist search. A completely different ad from a realty company came up for 200 more a month then what he asked . I called the realtors and the name of the owner was completely different than the name he wanted me to wire money to. I asked if I could meet him in person since his town I was sending money gram to was 1 hour away. Of course he would be busy with meetings that day so I shouldn’t worry and his wife would fed ex keys after they got a deposit. In his original email he told me that I could only drive by that it was locked. But when I went to the property it was unlocked I went in looked around and informed him it was open and asked if I should lock it. Once I saw the double ad with different prices I asked him why. He told me they had decided not to use the realtor anymore because they had to pay the realtor and didn’t want to anymore. I spoke to the realtor…got the name of the real owner and told her what was going on. She was so nice she offered to rent it to us for 700 instead of 8 and we are meeting her in the morning to actually fill out an application and see what we can do about the scammer. We were 12 hours away from sending 1200$ to him.

    • Brian Burke

      This happens all too frequently, Sarah. I hate to break this to you but it might not be over. While it’s great that you hadn’t sent the money, it sounds like you did send him a rental application. He now has your name and social security number, etc and identity theft might be his primary business, with the rental deposits just being an extra bonus. You might want to place a fraud alert on your credit file and monitor for any suspicious activity such as new credit cards you didn’t apply for, etc.

  25. The real problem is 2-fold.
    1. So many people are trusting and gullible. Craigslist makes it clear they shouldn’t rent from someone or send money without a face to face meeting and NEVER wire money to ANYONE you don’t know. (The police told scammed renters of mine the same thing.)
    2. With Craigslist’s policies and guidelines, there is no reason they should even allow rentals on their site! They do not verify anyone or anything and are impossible to work with on this matter.

    As long as people go to them to find renters, they will stay in the business. If they really want to resurrect their image, they should stop allowing postings for rentals. I think the continued bad press they are getting on this issue (especially in the summer months with vacation rental scams) is making them the “back alley” of online classified listing services! Soon no one will trust Craigslist anymore!

    My own saga is listed in the comments and quoted here:

    “Their motivation is short term gain. They get potential renters to pay a deposit (usually wire transfer) and promise to meet them at the house or give them entry info (send a key or code) after final or first month’s rent. Then the listing on Craigslist disappears, along with the potential renter’s money. I know this because it has happened with my property 4 times in the last 6 months.

    Craigslist has been NO help. The only thing that has helped is having my own listing with the words “SCAM ALERT” in red over the picture.”

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