I am a realtor and leasing agent in the downtown condo market in Minneapolis, MN. I have found over and over that Craigslist, with 50 million American users, is a wonderful way to help people find terrific rented condominiums at prices they can afford.
However, the Internet inherently carries some risks. The anonymity of the virtual world occasionally can promote wrong behavior. When that happens, real people are affected.
In a common ploy, Craigslist operators will lift actual addresses and photos of properties listed for sale on MLS-driven web sites. The operator will post these items and list the property “for rent” on Craigslist—without any rights to the land or building whatsoever. Usually, the advertised rent amount is significantly less than the market rate. Respondents, hungry for a deal, email the advertiser. The operators respond that they are traveling, out of the country, or incapacitated. Then they ask the prospect to wire a deposit. This is accompanied by a heightened sense of urgency.
“The property will rent out quickly,” the advertiser writes in closing.
Which would be true, if the condo were truly for rent at said price.
Craigslist explicitly warns users to work only with advertisers willing to meet in person. Even so, sometimes I get five phone calls a week from people following up on these ads. The near-victims find my phone number after tracing me as the MLS listing agent. These are intelligent real estate consumers—obviously able to do Internet research!
Though disappointed by the proposed funding arrangement, the renters contact me, anyway, to find out if, by chance, the “steal” might be for real.
It is in fact legal for home owners to list a property for sale on MLS meanwhile continuing to search the market for appropriate renters. In that sense, navigating this scam can be a little more confusing because the premise of it is plausible.
Common sense instructs Craigslist users to be wary of any deal that might be a little too good to be true. Clearly the admonition on the web site to avoid absentee sellers bears repeating here. Based on my experience in the field, here are some additional safety tips:
Observe carefully the email address posted on Craigslist compared to the one used in response to your emails. Scammers are known for using slightly different email addresses for every correspondence. This helps them organize their various false identities.
Be wary of advertisers who use overtly religious language. The sentiments, coming from legitimate advertisers, can be sincere or even endearing to the right audience. Unfortunately, thieves use this to their own advantage. I have experienced this personally!
For Owners of Rental Properties: Beware when a respondent offers you a check for an amount greater than what you are requesting as a deposit. The bearer is likely to ask you to wire the difference—unfortunately while his check is still clearing. Avoid this even when the circumstances sound convincing, for example, that the third-party check is part of the renter’s job relocation package.
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