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We’ve all seen them. The SCAM – also known as phishing or fraud attempts. But, can we spot them?

Noun: A dishonest scheme; a fraud.
Verb: Swindle.
Dictionary.com – Answers.com – Merriam-Webster – The Free Dictionary

I am writing this article because I have seen in the last few weeks a phishing/scam attempt that I had not seen in the past. It occurred during the course of my work and affected ads that I had placed, the owner had placed and a young gal who may or may not have fallen victim to a scam attempt. My business – Blue Mountain Rentals – promotes rental listings for local area landlords. I advertise their vacant or soon to be vacant listings on about 20 different websites, including Craigslist. The owner in this case also was advertising on Craigslist. We felt some double exposure couldn’t hurt the leads. I also check listings on various websites daily to provide Rental Leads on my website. So, I’m always on the lookout for new ads.

The house being advertised was a 3 bedroom, 2 bath home in a nice area of town and it was offered at $1250 per month. About 3 days after I listed this home on Craigslist, while looking for new listings, I spotted the scam ad for $700, also on Craigslist. When I read the details, they had taken exact excerpts from mine and the owners ads and made it their own. No actual phone number or other personal contact information was provided, just the anonymous email address that Craigslist generates.

They had created an ad that although, not priced below the market rents in the area for a 3 bd. 2 bath, it was low enough to try and lure people in to contact them. One local area gal did just that. They claimed to be out of the country at the moment. Now, those of us savvy to the internet scams would have seen this as a flag right off. But, to a potential renter that doesn’t use Craigslist often, it may not sound too farfetched. They asked her to provide information on herself by email – an online application of sorts. She did that and sent it right away. You see, she was trying to turn her life around and this opportunity sounded perfect for her situation.

The gal received a response back from the scam artist that she was exactly the type of renter they were looking for to keep their home in excellent condition. All she had to do was Wire transfer funds by Western Union to an address in Nigeria. I’m hoping that this final step did not happen. They promised that once the funds were received, she would be sent the keys to the home and would be all set to move in.

When I spotted the scam ad, I contacted the owner right away. Had she changed her mind and lowered the price? Was this a valid ad? I needed to find out. The owner guaranteed me that she had not lowered the price. She was completely surprised to hear of the second ad at such a low price. The owner was contacted by the gal (who was very confused) very shortly after the scam ad was spotted and the owner informed her that it was a scam. She explained that she was the rightful owner of the home and hopefully averted her from sending the funds to Nigeria.

I contacted the gal who had been lured in by their scam attempt and offered her a free housing search of all the available rentals in the area that fit her criteria. I normally charge for this service, but her story had touched me and I felt that she could really use some assistance. I have not heard back from her, but the offer is open when she is ready.

I noticed a few days later, a second scam ad attempt on the same listing. This time, they had gone even lower at $600 per month rent. Both times, the Owner notified Craigslist and had the ads removed. Luckily, the owner rented the home on September 24th so we pulled our ads. At the time of writing this blog however, another scam ad using her listing has once again appeared 3 days after the ads were pulled. Again, we contacted Craigslist for the ad to be removed.

At the top of every housing ad on Craigslist is this warning:
Avoid scams and fraud by dealing locally! Beware any arrangement involving Western Union, Moneygram, wire transfer, or a landlord/owner who is out of the country or cannot meet you in person.

Some phishing attempts are blatant and easy to spot right off the start, because they are just too good to be true. They try to lure you in many forms, from phone calls, to emails and even some print media ads. They may contain misspelled words, incorrect grammar, or a deal that is extremely low priced. While some ask you to reply to an email before they hit you with their scam attempt, many others are bolder and try to get you to click a web page link to glean your information in their initial contact.

A phone call scam may claim they are from a company you do business with, have done business with, or may claim to be a local charity and try to gain your personal or credit card information. It is always best to err on the side of caution. Ask them (especially the charity calls) if they have a local office where you can come in direct to make your donation, or ask to speak with a supervisor. Don’t be surprised if they hang up on you.

Here are some recent examples I’ve received both in my personal email as well as my business emails:

I saw your post from housing category and I am very interested in more details. First of all I would be happy that you can look at my interests and I hope you agree with them. Click here (link to a website) to see them and come back with your decision. Also you can call me instead of writing emails.

I just saw your Ad and thought I’d send a quick hello and introduce myself. My name is John Rommel and I am a nationwide real estate investor located in Saint Louis, Missouri. I am always looking for properties to buy and I always have deals coming in that YOU as a fellow investor or ordinary buyer can take advantage of… All you need to do is sign up for my Buyers List

This email was sent from our craigslist server to verify and confirm your identity.
There has been several multiple logon attempts mismatch on your craigslist account.
Account from an undisclosed IP/Computer location.
You are requested to verify your membership details correctly with craigslist.
Verify and Update your identity Click here to login (link to a website)

Or, maybe you’re unemployed and have been trying to find something to make ends meet. I’ve seen several phishing attempts lately offering work – again too good to be true. With today’s economy and the unemployment rate so high I can easily see how these examples may strike a chord and get someone who is becoming desperate to try them out:

Hiring Now – No Experience Needed: 12 Positions Left Paying $379/day From Home

Make $200 a Day while shopping
Dear Candidate,
We have a job offer available for you that will not disturb your present occupation. Currently we have available position for you to work for us. See below description.
“We have a mystery shopping assignment in your area and we would like you to participate

Cleaner Job $400 per week (note the spelling errors in the ad)
Hello, We came across your posting that you are available for job . We are newly wed family and we are in need of reliable,honest and dependant person to do a domestic work in our 4 bedroom house.
* Looking for a house cleaner for cleaning twice a week (suitable day).

Please be careful and safeguard your personal information and financial information. If you feel you have become a victim look to your local police department to assist you. Notify your bank immediately.

If you spot a fraud attempt, visit these websites for tips on how to report it:

Wishing everyone the best in their housing searches, housing listings and gladly assisting both sides daily to help Landlords & Renters Click!

Blue Mountain Rentals
Lori Hartjoy – owner