Friday, August 27, 2010

Renters Beware

I would first like to thank Terry Hogan at the Olney Gazette for listening to my concerns and writing an article about this problem. Please read the following article about Craigslist scams on rentals:

Real estate agents are warning residents to use caution when using Craigslist to search for houses to rent, saying some of the properties they are trying to sell have ended up on the online site as rental properties.

A Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection official says he is aware of this type of scam and warns users to be careful when using such Internet sites.

Attempts to reach Craigslist for comment were unsuccessful.

Denise Fox, an Olney Re/Max agent, said she listed a house for sale in a Mount Airy senior community on several websites, including Craigslist.

She said someone used the pictures she had posted on her listing and posted the property as a rental property, "listing it for a ridiculously low price to make people want to act quickly."

Although she did not list a second property in Frederick on Craigslist, it appeared online as a rental, she said.

She said people began driving up to the house, looking to rent it. She eventually placed a sign in the front yard stating that the property was not for rent and the Craigslist ad was a scam.

She said both incidents were similar — the person posing to rent the property said he had to leave the country quickly and therefore was unable to find someone he trusted enough to leave the key with. After receiving an application, complete with personal information, and a security deposit, he would make arrangements to send the key.

"I believe they must be getting money out of this, because they continue to do it," she said.

She said her clients, especially the couple living in the senior community, were shaken up by strangers knocking on their door.

Fox said she likely will continue using the free, online classified site.

"I will carefully monitor it, and if any of my listings show up I will flag them, and Craigslist will pull them immediately," she said.

Michael McGreevy, branch manager at Olney Long and Foster, said agents in his office also have found their listings and photographs as rental properties on Craigslist, and the listings typically follow the same scenario — hot property; need deposit quickly; will send the keys overnight.

"At least once a month I have an agent come tell me that they are getting phone calls for one of their listings that was listed as a rental on Craigslist," he said.

He said the problem has been going on for more than a year, but has become more pervasive during the past six months.

Joe Buffington, manager of Olney Re/Max Realty Centre, said the company has asked its agents to monitors Craigslist carefully.

Buffington said that if something is too good to be true; it probably isn't.

"You need to find out who you are renting from and who owns the house before you hand over any money," he said.

Eric Friedman, director of the county's Office of Consumer Protection, said that although the county does not have a lot of reports of this type of scam, it is aware of it.

"You just have to be careful," he said. "Craigslist is like the wild, wild West, as is eBay. A lot of good things happened in the wild, wild West, but there were also a lot of pitfalls. You never know who's at the other end of an online transaction."

He said all rental properties must be registered with the county's Department of Housing and Community Affairs, and landlords must be licensed.