Teri Capshaw and her family were selling their house in Boise in preparation for a move to Taiwan. Within three days of putting it up for sale, the house was under contract with a buyer.
But in the meantime, Capshaw’s mother-in-law made a discovery: The house also was listed on Craigslist for rent.
A scammer going by the name Romeo had stolen the text and more than a dozen photographs from the real-estate listing. He offered the three-bedroom home on Linda Vista Lane for $1,500 a month.
“I’ve already heard, through my agent, that at least two people have been seriously interested in renting it and have contacted this guy,” Capshaw said Friday.
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The Craigslist rental scam is one of those enduring pests of modern technology. It offers a sweet pad at a reasonable price to anyone willing to give personal information and a $50 application fee.
The Federal Trade Commission describes this scam as a “phantom rental,” in which “rip-off artists make up listings for places that aren’t for rent or don’t exist, and try to lure you in with the promise of low rent, or great amenities. Their goal is to get your money before you find out.”
The FTC offers tips for protecting yourself from being victimized by these scams on its website. The tips include not wiring money and not paying a security deposit before signing a lease or doing business with someone who claims to be out of the country.
The Idaho attorney general’s Consumer Protection Division hears about this scam “regularly,” said division chief Brett DeLange.
The scam even touched Capshaw’s in-laws when they were selling their house in La Grande, Oregon, six years ago and learned that it was being offered for rent. That’s how her mother-in-law got the idea to search the free-classifieds website for the Capshaw home.
Capshaw has filed a police report, and she called the Attorney General’s Office to report the scam. But it is usually “very, very difficult” to track down perpetrators, DeLange said.
The ad was removed from Craigslist by Friday afternoon.
To protect your home from being victimized, don’t leave it vacant and unmonitored, DeLange said. If you see a fake rental ad, flag it and contact Craigslist to have it removed.
The Craigslist website is useful, but it “seems to attract a lot of ne’er-do-wells,” he said. “I would be very careful when I’m both purchasing and selling. Both sides have to be careful.”