Too good to be true? The latest real estate scam

Michael Wherland saw the Craigslist ad — $700 for a suburban house rental — and knew it was too good to be true. Why? He was the Realtor trying to sell that house.

Someone he didn’t know was pretending to be a lease agent on the same property.

minnecon.smallicon.gif

As real estate scams go, “this is a new twist,” said Wherland. Just a very strange and odd new twist.”

It took me a couple times to get my head around what happened. When I finally got it, I realized it was a pretty good story — not just one about potentially losing money but also your identity.

Wherland wanted to get the word out because, “it can’t just be happening in Minnesota.”

His odyssey began when someone drove by the property and saw the for sale sign in the front yard with Wherland’s contact information. They called Wherland to say they’d seen the same house for rent on Craigslist.

The owner (an investor) was trying to lease the house as well, so Wherland wasn’t surprised — until he heard it was on Craigslist for $700 a month, far below the market value.

9707.jpg

He found the Craigslist ad with an email address contact. The ad was using the name of the legitimate leasing agent — but not her real email. The scammer had created a separate Yahoo account with the leasing agent’s name.

Wherland responded to the bogus email. He got back a story that they were the owners of the house and were trying to rent it because they were moving to west Africa for five years.

He asked for more information about them but they wouldn’t budge.

“I couldn’t get too far,” he said. “They wanted to know my information and wouldn’t give me their information no matter how much I asked.”

Wherland was also surprised by the nature of the bogus emailer’s questions seeking personal information. He thinks the scammer wasn’t just interested in grabbing a few hundreds bucks but also wanted data that could be used to lift his identity.

The phony ad was off Craigslist for awhile but Wherland says it reappeared a few times. (The real leasing agent didn’t respond to my inquiry.)

As far as Wherland knows, no one has lost money, “but people get embarrassed or scared of what they did, so who knows?”

More worrisome to him is how easy a scammer could lift someone’s name off an ad and pretend to be them via email. “I don’t think there’s anything you can do except buyer beware…”

Note: We learned about this story first from a Tweet by Mike’s mother Virginia and then from his sister, Carrie Newhouse, a source in MPR’s Public Insight Network.

  • http://www.AaronSOLD.com Aaron Dickinson – Edina Realty

    This scam isn’t terribly common, but has been going on around town for at least a year. I’ve heard the same thing from several other agents. Just like anything else on Craigslist, if you can’t meet the person face to face then you might not want to do business with them.

  • Lanai Deats

    This happened to someone I know in North Dakota. Luckily they caught on and reported it.

  • Adam

    I ran into this exact same situation just two days ago. I e-mailed someone regarding an ad posted to Craigslist which touted a lease of a house that sounded too good to be true. My initial questions were not answered in my e-mail, and the “leasing agent” wanted to run a credit check before I would get to see the place. I e-mailed back for the company name and have not received a reply.

  • Jackie

    THIS IS HAPPENING IN ALMOST EVERY CITY.. I AM LOOKING IN LA AND MOST OF MY RESPONSES ARE FROM A SCAMMER WITH SIMILAR STORY. I DIDN’T GIVE ANY OF MY INFO TO ANY OF THEM BUT WHAT SUCKS IS IT’S DELAYING MY MOVE… I GET EXCITED OR THINK I’M GOING TO BE IN ONE AREA AND IT TURNS OUT TO BE FAKE SO IT’S VERY UPSETTING…. BUYERS AND RENTERS BEWARE

  • http://ladinventures.com/blog Jason Sandquist

    Homeowners/Agents should set up a Google.com/alerts based on the property address to be notified when someone starts using your address. This will keep you posted when somebody has a potential scam going.

    It’s simple and takes a few seconds.

  • http://homeincomekit.org/ Home Income Kit

    Do you know the most challenging components of working online