Renters beware: Scam hitting Craigslist users

If you are looking for a place to rent, beware of scam artists, according to the FBI and local realtors.

"I got a phone call from a lady who said, 'I want to rent the property on South Claiborne,' and I said, 'Oh I'm so sorry, it's not for rent, it's for sale.' And she said, 'No, it's for rent,' and I said, 'I'm sorry, it's only for sale.' And she got sort of angry and perturbed... 'I want to put that deposit down right now, I want it,'" recalled Eileen Wallen, a realtor with Gardner Realtors.

Wallen was taken aback by the conversation she had with the determined caller. "[She said,] 'And I am going to take action against you.' I mean, she really got angry, and I said, 'Lady I'm so sorry, it is a scam,'" Wallen continued.

According to Wallen, the caller said the online bulletin board Craigslist is where she saw the property in question, listed as being "For Rent" instead of "For Sale."

Authorities say crooks steal pictures of properties from legitimate websites, and list them as being "For Rent" without the consent of Craigslist. Then potential renters are asked for credit card, Social Security numbers and other personal information.

"I said, 'What makes you think it's for rent?' And she said, 'Because it is,' and I said, 'How do you know it is?' And she said, 'It is on Craigslist,'" Wallen said of her conversation with the caller.

So the FBI has issued a consumer alert and it has been circulated among realtors.

The New Orleans Metropolitan Association of Realtors said its members report many clients as being affected by the scam.

"Apparently people are making money getting the deposits and then they can't deliver," continued Wallen.

"I have used Craigslist previously, and I've had success with Craigslist," said Lyneal Strain, a client of Wallen who was looking at a new residence to rent.

He said he found the place he wants to move from on Craigslist. "I think it just comes down to maybe meeting the owner and just kind of having a face-to-face meeting with the person that's renting out the unit," said Strain.

To attract would-be victims, the scammers almost always list the properties on Craigslist for an amount that is well below what the rental market is calling for.

"I asked her, 'How much is it for rent?' And we were asking I think at the time about $219,000 for the sale. And she said, 'It's for rent for $600,' and I said, 'Oh absolutely not,'" Wallen said of what the potential client told her about the listing on Craigslist.

Local FBI spokeswoman Mary Beth Romig said, if something sounds suspicious, it usually is.

"The consumer needs to check out very carefully and not send money without a definite fact that it is for rent," said Wallen.

For more information on Internet scams go to: http://www.fbi.gov/scams-safety.