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.
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.
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…”