Scam targets local real estate market

Turns into nightmare for one Luling homeowner

Some advertisements online for St. Charles homes for lease at an extremely good price may seem too good to be true – and they are.

A scam has been spreading in the parish where an unknown person has posted notices on Craigslist indicating that a local home is for lease – in one case, the scammer asks only $700 a month for a three bedroom, 1,721-square-foot Luling home with utilities included. The ads claim that the homeowner has been called away on missionary work to Nigeria and is looking for a lessee who can maintain the home. They ask interested tenants to wire a $700 deposit to them in Nigeria in exchange for the keys to the home.

Local real estate agent Regina Allemand became aware of the scheme when one of her clients’ homes was listed on Craigslist without his knowledge.

She received a call from someone who was interested in leasing the property. They had driven by the home, which is in fact for sale by the owner through Allemand, and seen her sign in the yard.

“This scam has happened twice that we know of in our area,” Allemand said. “The public needs to know about this.”

Gary Muller is a Luling resident whose home was listed on the website without his knowledge. He was confused when random people began looking in his windows and parking outside of his house.

“I had people stopping here, knocking on the door and looking into the house, asking if it’s for rent,” Muller said. “I thought they meant a house down the street – I thought someone had just made a mistake.”

Since then, Muller has had almost a dozen people come by his house in reference to the Craigslist ad.

“It’s scary for him because people have been coming up to his house – being very bold – because the ad says that no one lives there anymore,” Allemand said.

One local woman also forwarded Allemand an email in which she corresponded with the person who posted the Craigslist ad. The scammer wrote from the email address cornerjames87@yahoo.com. He indicated that he knew the leasing price was lower than the market but that he mainly wanted someone who would keep up the property. He also said there were plans to remove the “for sale” sign on the lawn soon. Allemand said that the actual market cost to lease a house the size of Muller’s in the St. Charles area would be closer to $1,500-$1,800 per month.

Allemand and Muller believe that the perpetrator found the home listings on real estate websites and stole information from them to place the ads on Craigslist.

Muller believes that at least one couple has fallen for the fake notice. He received change-of-address forms in the mail for a couple that was transferring all of their mail to his address. He went to the post office to stop the action, but believes that the couple probably already sent the $700 deposit and was expecting to move in to his house.

Muller has contacted Craigslist.com three times about the notices, but once one notice is removed from the site another identical notice is posted.

Muller said he has also notified the police and trade commission, but he doubts there will ever be a resolution to the problem.

“There’s no telling where the scammers are at – Africa, Britain, who knows,” he said. “I did everything I could, but there’s no telling how many houses this person does it to, and as soon as he’s finished with this one he’ll move on to another one.”

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