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Craigslist rental ads part of scam

Last modified: 7/19/2010 12:00:00 AM
After browsing Craigslist postings for apartments and houses for rent in the Concord area, Heidi Rule thought she found the perfect place to live - a large white house with black shutters and a front porch for $700 a month.

Rule contacted the owner at the e-mail address listed and filled out an online questionnaire posted by the homeowner on the website, which features classified advertisements. But after exchanging several strange e-mails, Rule said she suspected she was the victim of a scam. She confirmed it when she drove by the house on Elm Street in Penacook and spoke with the real homeowner, who had no idea her house and name were listed on the site.

"My boyfriend and I kept thinking that the price was too good to be true," Rule said. "We were wondering what the catch was."

Rule stumbled upon the listing last week, posted by a Judith Iversen. The three-bedroom house was considerably cheaper than other local listings for a similar space, and she e-mailed to ask for more information. The scammer e-mailed Rule claiming to be a missionary currently living in West Africa and said she hoped to find someone to live in her home until she returned to the United States. She asked Rule to fill out a questionnaire with information such as her birth date, home phone number and current address, and said the lease comes with a $400 security deposit.

The correspondence with the supposed homeowner grew stranger though, raising some red flags, Rule said. The e-mails detailed several odd regulations for the house, telling Rule she needs to know how to use a stove without starting a fire.

The more questions Rule asked about the lease agreement and the property, the less friendly the e-mails became, she said. So later in the day, Rule drove by the Elm Street home to see the property and saw lights on and people inside.

"It was getting weirder and weirder," Rule said. "I knocked on a neighbor's door, and she told me the woman who owns the house definitely does not reside in West Africa."

That evening, Rule returned to tell the real homeowner her house was listed on Craigslist and that the scammers used her real name. Iversen said she has never placed an ad on the website.

Yet the Craigslist post had exterior and interior photographs of the home. Iversen said she doesn't know how the scammer found her name or got pictures of the inside of her house. The detailed post about her home was unsettling, she said.

"With the internet, everything is out there and nothing is private," Iversen said. "It's scary because I can't do anything about that."

Iversen said Rule was the third person to contact her about the fake Craigslist posting. A girl from California called Iversen two years ago after sending a security deposit to the scammer. In May, Iversen got a phone call from another potential renter who saw the ad online. Rule said she reported the scam to Craigslist, and it is now removed from the site.

Concord Deputy Police Chief John Duval said scams like the one perpetrated on Iversen and Rule are not uncommon, but generally people only report them when they have lost a large sum of money. The Concord police have gotten reports of phone scams, hoaxes through the U.S. mail and internet scams, all difficult to track down, he said.

"Ultimately, the scammer may not even be from this country," he said.

Duval said people should be cautious when buying anything on the internet or giving out personal information, and file a police report when scammed. If a seller is rushing the transaction, that should raise a red flag, he said. Buyers should also make an effort to see the product before purchasing and not be afraid to ask a lot of questions.

A good precaution to take when buying anything from someone previously unknown is to ask for identification or to see a driver's license number to verify that the person is who they say they are, he said.

"If it seems too good to be true, it probably is," he said.

Rule currently lives in Hopkinton and has not heard from the scammer since the ad was taken down from Craigslist last week. She said she believes the goal of the scam was to obtain the security deposit, which she didn't send. Because she filled out the questionnaire however, the scammers have all her personal information.

"I don't really know where to go from here. You never know, now they might turn around and use my name for something," she said.


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