Craigslist ad scam targets rental properties

Scammer used site to try to rent property for half its set rate

Chris Earl
Published: January 12 2012 | 9:15 am - Updated: 3 April 2014 | 10:16 am in

Once a property owner is out of the busy rental season for the spring and summer, filling the vacancies of the winter is crucial.

Angie Morris has two rental properties in Cedar Rapids that she and her husband work to keep occupied.  With a recent vacancy on a single-family house on the northeast side, she took to Craigslist and Zillow to place ads.

Only her house started getting interest.  Lots of it.

"I started getting a ton of calls because the price the person listed my house at was a lot lower than it actually is," Morris said Wednesday.

What happened was that someone, claiming "my wife and I just traveled to Nigeria" and using her husband's name, was trying to rent their $950-a-month property for $500.

"I was getting notes on the door, in the mail box, people saying 'I'm very interested in renting, please call me back right away'," said Morris.

She sent SourceMedia a copy of the Craigslist ad that was lifted from her legitimate ad.  The fake "for rent" ad said the owner would be in Nigeria for up to "4 years", working on a humanitarian and faith-based program, all while asking people to "treat it (the house) as your own".  The fake ad also used the property's actual address.

Morris said she realized what was happening when people contacted her from her ad on Zillow, which had the correct rental price of $950 per month and her phone number.

"I was concerned that somebody would actually get scammed by this," said Morris, who told us she immediately filed complaints with Craigslist and with the Fair Trade Commission.  She said the Craigslist ad came down "within hours" but resurfaced the next day for a period of time as well.

One person may have fallen victim to a scam from the property, as Morris did forward an e-mail correspondence between her and one prospective tenant who, from investigating the e-mails, did wire $500 to the person who posted the "fake ad."

Multiple landlords throughout Cedar Rapids did tell TV9's Chris Earl, on Wednesday, that this is an issue for both landlords and tenants.

Tim Conklin, of Preferred Property Management and formerly with the Landlords of Linn County, said people should watch for a place that may appear "too nice" for the rent that is requested.

"A lot of scams are after people moving from out of town on a promise of a property that can't really be verified," said Conklin. He said the slower rental months of the fall are starting to pick up again for the upcoming spring, especially as the region's larger companies start to hire employees after Jan. 1.

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