Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Carmel on the Case: Rental Ripoffs
For some, just finding an affordable place to live is a real challenge, but in the hunt for homes renters could find themselves being hunted by internet con artists. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the case.
WSVN -- This Fort Lauderdale home is for sale, but people are knocking on the door expecting to rent it.
Justin Schnute, Homeowner: "They said they were here to look at the house."
Justin Schnute says someone hijacked the ad for his home, including pictures of the interior and posted it as a rental on Craigslist with a ridiculously low price.
Justin Schnute, Homeowner: "They are looking for the deal of the century, and this was one of those really good deals that lured them in."
Justin is concerned for his family's safety, especially since whoever posted the fake ad sent emails telling renters to swing by and take a look at the property.
Justin Schnute, Homeowner: "That's where I became worried that somebody may come by while I wasn't here, maybe even thinking that they lived here."
It's a big problem. Realtors say more and more of these ads are popping up on the internet, and the sad part is these fake listings are resulting in real people losing real money.
Mike Ugarte, Realtor: "They are making an emotional decision and they think it's a good deal."
The con artists are convincing people to send deposit money out of the country. State investigators say it's happening even though there are warnings on the Craigslist site.
Mark Fagan, FL Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services: "On Craigslist, it says, if they ask you to wire money, it's a scam, but people still fall for it."
And it's fairly easy to see why. Here is one of the ads for an unrealistic low price of $700 a month. It offers a two story home in this gated Plantation community.
Lea Ann Weatherford, Searching Properties: "It didn't look right and it didn't feel right."
Lee Ann Weatherford was trying to help a friend find a rental home online. She became suspicious when she got an email from owners who claimed they were out of the country.
Lea Ann Weatherford: "They said they were from Nigeria or West Africa, doing missionary work, my red flags went out."
So, we decided to respond to the ad. We were told to send a $700 deposit by wire to Lagos, Nigeria. It is a known hotbed for this type of crime. A man calling himself "Smith, Michael" sent a phone number, so I called him.
Carmel: "Hello, is this "Smith, Michael?"
Turns out it was a recording. I called back three times and each time I got this, a bunch of coughing and dogs barking.
Carmel Cafiero: "It's kind of a shame, isn't it. There's enough suffering in the real estate market already?"
Mike Ugarte, Realtor: "Yes, it is."
Carmel Cafiero: "Experts say one of the most important rules to remember: deal with locals. Meet the owner, tour the property, and never send money to Canada, Jamaica or Africa for a home right here in our own backyard."
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