Scam alert! Listing targets renters

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By Tom Wilmoth

Steve Rush a real estate agent with Scott and Bond Inc., in Bedford, wants area residents to be warned of a scam targeting those seeking to rent a home.
    For the second time since this past summer, an individual has used real estate listings with the company to try and defraud people through Craigslist.
    According to Rush, the company has received calls from people asking about homes they have for sale because the advertisement on Craigslist has the property listed for rent. “People have been calling asking if the house is for rent or not,” Rush said this week.
    The property never was for rent, but if someone follows the Craigslist advertisement, they could lose hundreds of dollars.
    One person who recently responded to the listing on Craigslist received an email, supposedly from the homeowner of the property. The email states that the homeowner is away serving in Malaysia as a missionary for the next three to four years. The email accuses the realtor of raising the price on the home and states it had been taken off the market. It goes on to tell the one responding to the advertisement to ignore the “For Sale” sign in the yard of the property.
    Of course, none of this is true. In fact, the person perpetrating the scam has simply linked the property to a listing from the realtor’s website.
    Once the “rent payment” is received, the supposed homeowner promises to send the keys to the property “via Express Delivery Services.”
    “May God bless you and your family,” the email states.
    The only problem, of course, is that the advertisement is a scam. And no blessings were ever intended.
Difficult to investigate
    “These cases are very difficult to investigate because often the perpetrator is hard to locate, or is out of the country,” stated Bedford Police Chief James Day.
    Rush reported the scam to Day this week.
    “In the rare case that we could locate and charge the individual,  bringing them back for court could be prohibitively costly,” Day added.
    So the public is best served by educating itself.
    According to Day, there are some general cautions for anyone that uses an Internet service to make purchases:
    1) If the price is too good, be careful!  In this particular case, the rental price was not unreasonable, but then he included all utilities and pets with no extra fee.  That made the price an unbelievably good deal. The rental price quoted in the email was $500.
    2) Never send money to a stranger using a money service, like Western Union.
    3) Check some common information that the scammer uses in their emails.  For instance in this case, the scammer said he was in Malaysia, and she could call him for more information.  He gave a telephone number that was a Northern California exchange.
    4) Be alert to “stilted” language.  Misuse of common English is often a clue that the offer is a scam.  In this case, the email included a sentence that read, “Please, one more thing, I wouldn’t like to have any benefit of trust in you because I want to stand in your words that the property would be well taken care of all the time.”
    5) The scammer may also put in their email a caution to not contact a realtor if there is a sign there.  In this case, they included this: “My initial plan was to sell the house but it was not successful because the Realtor raised the price which made it difficult for me to sell before leaving the States so never mind if you see the for sale sign in front of the house.  It has already been taken off the market as for sale so there is no need to contact any Realtor.”
    6)  If there are photos included, make sure the photos correspond with what you would expect to pay for the property or the item.  If the photos show an extraordinary deal, you probably are being scammed. 
    7) Don’t believe all the information the scammer includes.  For instance, the scammer in this instance said he was on a mission trip and included a website,  http://www.sim.org/index.php/content/our-purpose.  “This is a real website, and that type of thing can often fool someone into believing the rest of the email is also legit,” Day stated.
    Day said people want to believe they are getting a good deal, and once in an eon, they may.  “But again, if it just seems to be an unusually good deal, it is probably a ripoff,” he said. “Fortunately, this potential victim became suspicious and did not follow through by sending money to the scammer.”
    Day added that there are thousands of scams, many of which are Internet related in one way or another. 
    “Buyers, and sellers, need to be cautious when doing business with any internet company,” he said. “My best advice is to deal with someone you know or with a well-known, reputable business.”
    Rush added that if there is a realtor’s “For Sale” sign in front of a property, that means the property is for sale, not for rent. Last summer he issued a fraud alert to Craigslist after one of the scams came to his attention. The problem is, the company doesn’t know there is a problem until someone calls.