June 22, 2010
Phony rental ads continue to pop-up online with the sole purpose of stealing money from unsuspecting renters, warns Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood.

The scammers steal the details of the homes and even the pictures from the actual real estate listing, making the listings seem like the real thing, says Attorney General Hood. These ads are placed on Craigslist and other online classifieds for properties that are actually for sale, not rent.

Prospective renters typically fall victim after responding to an online classified for a rental property. The scammer duplicates postings from legitimate real estate sites and re-posts these ads after altering them. Often, the scammers use the brokers real name to create a fake email, which gives the fraud more legitimacy.

When the victim sends an email through the classified ad site inquiring about the home, a response comes from someone claiming to be the owner. The owner claims he and his wife are currently on missionary work in a foreign country. Therefore, he needs someone to rent their home while they are away. The victim is asked to send money to the owner in the foreign country via a wire service, which goes to the scammer and the victim loses the money.

Hood advises consumers to be skeptical of any solicitation where:

• The deal sounds too good to be true. Scammers often lure victims by listing a rental for a very low price. Compare listings, and if the rental comes in suspiciously low, walk away.

• The landlord is located elsewhere and prefers to communicate via e-mail. Scammers might say they have just been relocated out of the country for a job or missionary work - dont believe it. Deal locally with people you can meet in person.

• The landlord requires a substantial deposit before handing over the keys or even showing the home. Dont pay any money before inspecting the home, inside and out.

• The landlord asks the renter to wire money through wire transfer services such as Western Union or MoneyGram. Money sent via wire transfer service is extremely difficult to retrieve and once the scammers have picked it up there is little chance of getting the money back.

Anyone who suspects they have been a victim of this scam or any other, should contact their state's attorney general or local consumer affairs department. Suspected abuse posted on the Craigslist site may be reported to: abuse@craigslist.org.