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Craigslist housing scam seems to have gone away - for now

Kyle Barnett -   Aug 02, 2012

A Craigslist scam asked residents to wire $700 in order to lease a home in St. Charles Parish.
A Craigslist scam asked residents to wire $700 in order to lease a home in St. Charles Parish.

A nearly year-long Craigslist scam involving housing in St. Charles Parish seems to finally be under control.

During the scam, an unknown person posted notices on Craigslist indicating that a local home was for lease. In one instance, the scammer asked only $700 a month for a three bedroom, 1,721-square-foot Luling home with utilities included. The ads claimed that the homeowner had been called away on missionary work to Nigeria and is looking for a leasee who can maintain the home. They would then ask interested tenants to wire a $700 deposit to them in Nigeria in exchange for the keys to the home.

Regina Allemand, a real estate agent with Gardner Realtors in Boutte, said the scam was prevalent in the parish late last year and early this year.

"It has happened several times here in this area in Destrehan, Luling and Hahnville," she said.

Despite repeated warnings by local realtors, Allemand said a number of people were close to wiring the money before they contacted her office.

"There were at least five to seven people that were heavy into that and were about ready to send their deposits," Allemand said. "For some reason they called the real estate office after they saw (the home) was listed to see if they could get in beforehand. I was able to tell them that it is a scam."

Missy Whittington, corporate executive officer for the New Orleans Metro Association of Realtors, said her office is well aware of the scam.

"It happens here, not just in St. Charles Parish, but throughout the state. Then when we go to national conventions they are all talking about it too," Whittington said. "So itís a nationwide business going on. Itís not just a local thing."

Whittington said her office gets reports of the scam being perpetrated in the area every three to four months.

"We periodically send warnings to our agents every time we hear about an incident," she said. "We just remind them to advise their clients of this so they are not innocent and get caught up in a scam."

Craigslist is well aware that their website is being used to scam people and they provide a list of things to look out for. No. 1 on that list is that potential buyers or renters should insist on meeting the person with whom they are conducting business. Craigslist also warns about never using a wire transfer, a component of the scams that have been occurring in St. Charles.

Whittington said sending a deposit through a wire transfer before meeting the landlord is virtually unheard of in the real estate business.

"A normal listing would not ask for a deposit that way anyway. They would want some contact with whoever is going to be leasing their home," she said. "They would want some background information on them. You know they are going to be checking credentials on them."

The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received more than 300,000 scam complaints nationwide last year alone that include identity theft and advance fee fraud.

The FBIís Cyber Division Assistant Director Michael Welch released a statement regarding last yearís IC3 numbers.

"Internet crime is a growing problem that affects computer users around the world and causes significant financial losses," Welch said.

Welch said it is important for those who are victims of scams to report the crimes so the perpetrators can be tracked down.

For her part, Allemand said potential renters in the area should be aware that scams do happen.

"The old adage is trueÖif itís too good to be true, itís not true," she said. "You just have to follow your own instincts and talk to the professionals to check it out because you donít want to spend your money sending out a deposit and giving out personal information.

"If you are giving that away there is some identity theft going on there."

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