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Avoid scammers posing as rental agents

April 7, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
It's happening all around the country: Scam artists are placing fake advertisements for apartment rentals on Craigslist.org, then they rip off people who respond to the ads.We've heard about the potential for scams on Craigslist, the online bulletin board. The Web site says dealing locally with folks you can meet in person can avoid 99 percent of the scams on Craigslist.

But this is a story about the other 1 percent.

"Mad, upset, floored," said Deyanira Rodriguez.

Deyanira Rodriguez saw an ad for a home in Moreno Valley. She was led to believe it was available for rent. So she met the supposed agents at the home in person, like the Web site suggested. They gave her the key to the home, and she made the down payment.

"We gave him the money," said Rodriguez. "Thirty-four-hundred dollars."

Rodriguez says the agents took the money, and then took off, claiming they had to make another copy of the lease agreement. They told her to wait there in front of the house. She waited and waited. She hasn't seen them since.

"He never answered our calls, called us back, nothing, so as soon as I got home I called the police and filed a report," said Rodriguez.

Eyewitness News has learned the home isn't available for rent at all. It's actually bank-owned. Police say it's happening more and more with foreclosures. Scam artists figure out how to get a copy of the key out of the lockbox and pretend to be an agent.

"Once the perpetrator has the key, they open it, they'll have open houses, pretend to be the owner, collect the first and last month's rent, or even the first month's rent, and once they have that money, they are literally in the wind," said Dennis Gutierrez, Riverside County Sheriff's Dept.

Craigslist told Eyewitness News that they go to great lengths to prevent scams from reaching users, employing a wide array of technological and staff measures to suppress scam attempts.

Scams that do reach the site are generally quickly identified and removed by user-flagging. That has happened in this case.

But too late for Rodriguez.

"We just lost our money in less than an hour," said Rodriguez. "I gave them cash, that's my big mistake."


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