Photo: via Lifehacker
Repurposing Craigslist ads to dupe would-be renters into forking over cash is one of the oldest scams in the book. But people still fall for it left and right, and in the era of Google Maps and GPS, it pays to be on guard.
How it works
Using an actual Craigslist ad for a rental property, the crook creates a duplicate with a new email that matches up with the name or address of the property to make it seem more legitimate, says Robert Siciliano, identity theft expert with McAfee.
The asking price is lowered to give the con more appeal, and anyone taking the bait is asked to wire money ASAP because the landlord or owner is out of town. Victims are also told that they can’t view the place, but rest assured that they’ll be refunded if there’s any issue.
What renters should know
Renters should go by the mantra, “If it’s too good to be true, it is,” Siciliano warns. “Whenever the landlord says they’re out of the country, that’s a red flag it’s a scam. No matter how they play it, no one’s gone.” Also: No savvy renter should even think about paying for a place they haven’t seen and found to their liking.
You’ve also got to do your homework. Check the seller out, ask to see a valid, state-issued ID, view the deed to the place and get as much information as you can, even if it’s a tad bit annoying, Siciliano says. “You can’t be too trusting when you’re handing someone a check for $3,000.”
Also be mindful of swapping any personally identifiable information over email and block out your social security number on documentation when possible. Never, ever email your SSN, and if you do give your SSN on an application and they don’t rent to you, go over to their place and get the application back and shred it.
Another helpful trick is to research the ad itself. Plug some of the body of the ad into Craigslist or perform a simple Google search to see if the same ad pops up on different sites and/or with different info. “If that happens, it is definitely a tip-off,” says Siciliano before adding that crooks make little effort to change the ad, aside from switching around the email or phone number. “(The ads are) pretty much boilerplate; crooks change the ad content, contacts and price. It’s the least amount of labour with the most possible return.”
Homeowners should be on guard too
As a homeowner posting a rental ad online, you should do just as much, if not more, of the homework outlined above. Ask to see the prospective renter’s valid ID, wait for checks to clear way past when they should, and contact your bank to ensure it went through.
Finally, when asked to share social media profiles, keep in mind what information you’re making them privy to. You always want to limit whatever you’re revealing about yourself, so with these transactions, it’s best to meet in person.