Schneiderman Issues Consumer Alert to Protect New Yorkers from Craigslist Rental Scams

March 21, 2012 Updated Mar 21, 2012 at 11:37 AM EDT

By WKBW News

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Schneiderman Issues Consumer Alert to Protect New Yorkers from Craigslist Rental Scams

March 21, 2012 Updated Mar 21, 2012 at 11:37 AM EDT

Albany, N.Y. (WKBW release) -- After a rise in complaints related to Craigslist rental scams, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued a consumer alert Wednesday urging New Yorkers to protect themselves from fraud.

According to a news release:

The Attorney General's regional offices statewide have received a spike in reports from New Yorkers who were victims or almost fell victim to scams that lure consumers into paying security deposits for properties advertised on Craigslist, only to discover the listings are fake. Victims have lost anywhere between $200 to $6,000.
 
"While these offers look appealing, prospective renters must have a critical eye when applying for rental properties on sites like Craigslist," said Attorney General Schneiderman. "Remember the simple adage, if it looks and sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Many of the scams originate overseas, making prosecution at the state or local levels impossible, which is why it's important that New Yorkers are educated and alerted about these scams before they strike."
 
The scam works in a variety of ways:
 
• Scammers will use realtors’ multiple listing services to find properties that are legitimately for rent or sale. They take the information, change the contact information and offer a much lower price than the original listing.
 
• Oftentimes, scammers will offer a telephone number without a functioning voicemail setup, causing the potential renter to contact them via email.
 
• Scammers' emails are typically poorly written and may indicate the "owner" is on a humanitarian mission in another country.
 
• Emails typically ask for a deposit to be wired in exchange for a key to the house.
 
Here are just a few examples of complaints the Attorney General's office has received:
 
Buffalo - A family looking to relocate to New York City found a listing for an apartment on Craigslist. They were required to put down nearly $6,000 for first and last month’s rent and security. When they arrived in New York City, they discovered their new home was actually an abandoned warehouse.

Syracuse - A realtor discovered scammers had used his "house for sale listing" as a "house for rent" listing on Craigslist. The realtor only realized what happened when people contacted him using the phone number on the for sale sign in front of his house to inquire about the rental.
 
Watertown - A Fort Drum service member almost fell victim to a Craigslist rental scam and was on her way to wire the security deposit money when she was alerted by our office that it was a scam. Had there not been a delay as the consumer waited to transfer funds from one account to another, the Attorney General's office would not have been able to get to her in time. As part of the work of the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Bureau, an investigator had been corresponding with the Craigslist scammer when the scammer inadvertently forwarded the victim's contact information to the staffer, who was then able to alert the would-be victim before it was too late.
 
Poughkeepsie - A resident lost $2,600 in a Craigslist rental scam. She responded to an ad looking for a roommate. The scammer told the consumer that she was temporarily working out of the country but would be moving back shortly. The scammer convinced the renter that she needed assistance in making arrangements to move back. She sent fake checks to the victim and asked her to forward the money to other people who were allegedly helping her move. The renter was promised $100 for her troubles. In the end, the bogus checks did not clear by the bank and the consumer ended up owing the money.
 
In an effort to protect and educate New Yorkers, Attorney General Schneiderman issued the following tips to the public so they can avoid becoming victims of this fraudulent scheme:
 
• Make sure you know who actually owns the advertised property (records can be checked at local county courthouses and some municipalities allow you to check tax records online).
 
• Never wire any money at the request of a potential landlord.
 
• Research the name or company you're dealing with to see if they have any complaints against them.
 
• Never send a scan of your passport or other ID. These thieves will use your identity to scam others.
 
• Use reverse directory look up if the person has given you their telephone number. It's important to double check that they are who they say they are.
 
• Due to the rise in foreclosures, ask the landlord if they're current on their mortgage payments, and then get their answer in writing.
 
• Consider using another method for finding a rental (a real estate agent or a rental agency).
 
• Check the Better Business Bureau.
 
• If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
 
If you feel you've been a victim of this type of scam or any other type of consumer fraud, contact the Attorney General's Consumer Helpline: (800) 771-7755.