With a burgeoning "sharing economy" and the growing amount of trust in peer-to-peer marketplaces like Craigslist, consumers have become increasingly comfortable with online transactions. These days, it's no exaggeration to say that people are willing to look for almost anything online. Whether it's finding a roommate, a vacation home, a life partner or a rental apartment, this "Craigslist culture" offers no-cost or low-cost services that are quick and, most importantly, convenient.
But experts warn that convenience can sometimes come at an unexpectedly high price, particularly for those who turn to free classified sites like Craigslist for real estate-related transactions. Despite the media spotlight on the dangers of Craigslist in recent years, it appears that online rental scammers are still out in full force, preying on unsuspecting renters and landlords alike.
Just this January, a couple from Lynchburg, Va., were scammed out of $1,000 and confronted by the police because of a fake rental listing they'd responded to on Craigslist.
Richard and Faith Shive (pictured left) thought they'd found a beautiful vacant home and planned to rent it from the listing's author. The landlord claimed in the ad that he was away on a humanitarian "mission," and needed to rent the property in the interim. Convinced the story was true, the Shives wired a requested $1,000 fee to the renter, received the keys, and then moved into the empty house.
Two days later, police officers showed up at the Shives' "new home," demanding that they leave. It turns out that, while the home was legitimately listed for rent on the market, the unscrupulous party that advertised the rental on Craigslist was not the rightful landlord. The police informed the couple that the scammer had broken into the home and posed as the rightful owner only to make off with their deposit.
"They just made it sound believable," Faith told CBN News. "I didn't suspect anything."
And it's not just renters getting swindled -- landlords appear at risk, too. In another recent incident, Georgia resident Robert Fulton claimed that he got scammed out of $2,200 by a pair of prospective renters after he'd posted an ad on Craigslist to lease out his empty basement.
The pair reportedly sent him a $3,500 check as an advance on the rent, then asked him for a favor. Fulton claims that they requested he send the $2,200 they had "overpaid" him to an acquaintance of theirs to help "cover moving expenses." Though Fulton says that he had his suspicions, he went through with the transaction as the first check appeared to have cleared.