Update October 2019: C-Ville reports again, that the scam is still around.
Update 15 December 2015: They’re back! C-Ville did a nice story on scams in Charlottesville.
Update 21 December 2011: A friend, Jay Thompson went through the process of applying for a craigslist rental scam … hilarity ensues.
Update 13 January 2011: Another example of someone being taken by craigslist scammers – this time in Chicago. (h/t Consumerist)
Update 18 May 2010: If you get scammed by one of these, I think you should contact the local police.
In short, if it sounds too good to be true … it probably is. Craigslist in Charlottesville has apparently recently been hammered with scammers stealing information from the Charlottesville MLS and repurposing pictures and information for the craigslist scam postings.
I’ve gotten more than a few emails and phone calls in the past several weeks asking about properties that seem to be for rent and are priced to rent really aggressively … (thank you for trusting me enough to ask) …
Hello! I am contacting you hopefully for some confirmation. Two days ago I saw the […] property listed on Craigslist as a rental and contacted the individual who posted it. I received an email back from a man currently in South Africa who claims to be the homeowner (“Engineer/Pastor Blair”). He writes that he would be willing to rent this property but that he has the keys with him in South Africa where he will be for the next two years.
Basically, it’s a scam, and I’m grateful that so many people have been doing their due diligence and not been taken in by this. But I suspect that there are others who have. Be careful.
The FBI stated last year:
David A. Thomas, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in South Carolina, advises homeowners and/or prospective renters in South Carolina to be cautious of a new scheme being perpetrated by Nigerians utilizing Craigslist.
Homeowners list their homes for sale with real estate agents, who will list the homes for sale in the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and also with public search websites, which allow individuals to query homes for sale via the Internet. Nigerian scammers find homes listed for sale on these public search sites, copy the pictures and listings verbatim, and then post the information onto Craigslist under available housing rentals, without the consent or knowledge of Craigslist, who has been notified.
After the posting is listed, unsuspecting individuals contact the poster, who is Nigerian, for more information on the “rental.” The Nigerian scammer will state that they had to leave the country very quickly to do missionary or contract work in Africa and were unable to rent their house before leaving, therefore they have to take care of this remotely. The “homeowner” sends the prospective renter an application and tells them to send them first and last month’s rent to the Nigerian scammer via Western Union. The prospective renter is further told If they “qualify” they will send them the keys for their house. Once the money is wired to the scammer, they show up at the house, see the home is actually for sale, are unable to access the property, and their money is gone.
If you have questions about it, search the MLS to ensure that the house is in fact listed and then contact the listing agent to verify that they are in fact trying to rent the house …
Update 18 May 2010:
I just talked to someone in Charlottesville who was scammed by one of these crooks.
This is one of the emails she received; I removed the address. It’s a very clever email. Those darned Realtors … always inflating prices.
Greetings! Thanks for your email.. The house is still available. I decided to rent the house because we are going to spend more time here in West Africa, about 5 years.. Let me start by introducing myself. I must confess that I am very new in this landlord business.. However, My name is Joshua Lebestine , I and my wife own the house located at (Address removed,) Charlottesville VA 22902, Due to my job as a civil engineer, I works for a German company called Julius Berger Constructing,CO, and now i have been transfer to West Africa to work in a branch in West Africa.I spent less time in the States so I could not get a hold on any Realtor to handle this rent issue, although it was when I knew how long we are going to stay in Africa that I decided to rent out the house. However, the initial plan was to sale out the House. which I tried, but sometimes the agents inflates the prize and it takes longer to sell.The house include the utilities,because of this reason and more we need a responsible person that can take very good care of it as we are not after the money , but want it to be clean and for you to take it as if it were yours. The rent is: $800 Security Deposit: $700 For this 4BR/2BA. RENT APPLICATION FORM PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF Full Name__________________________________________________ Home Phone ( ) ________________________ Date of Birth_________________________________ Other Phone ( ) ___________________ Current Address_______________________________Apt#________ City__________________ State______ Zip________ Reasons for Leaving____________________________Rent $__________Phone ( ) ____________________________ Are you married____________________________ How many people will be living in the house____________________________ How many people will be living in the house____________________________ Do you have a pet____________________________ Do you have a car____________________________ Occupation____________________________ Move In Date____________________________ ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. TAKE NOTE: YOU CAN ONLY DRIVE BY AND SEE MY HOUSE FROM THE OUTSIDE AND IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN RENTING GET THE APPLICATION FORM FILLED OUT AND SEND IT BACK TO ME. Joshua Lebestine.
And this is an email she received from another scammer. On this one, she sent them money; by the second time, she’d caught on.
God bless you for your interest about my house, I am renting this house to a responsible and neat person or family who has the fear of God and treat my house as his or her own.Presently my wife and I Â work for USAID.USAID works in agriculture, democracy & governance, economic growth, the environment, education, health, global partnerships, and humanitarian assistance in more than 100 countries to provide a better future for all.
USAID still faces an uncertain future. In many developing countries, HIV/AIDS and health issues are having a dramatic impact on social cohesiveness and economic strength, blocking the very development goals we seek. Virtually all the new democracies in the world today are fragile; others are democracies more in name than substance.
Nearly a quarter of the people living in developing countries, or about one billion people, live in absolute poverty. There are a host of other threats – ranging from terrorism to infectious disease and violent conflict – that challenge us and the developing nations we seek to help.Here is USAID Web address:http://www.usaid.gov/
USAID efforts to foster world-wide economic growth and increased trade,and tackling cross-border issues such as the spread of HIV/AIDS and trafficking in persons.To safe the live of peoples from primitive Â death that claims the souls of younger ages as a result of casual sex gave us transfer to West Africa and we will be away for 8 years or more and this is why we are actually renting out house,so if you are interested and will take good care of our house then we will be ready to accept you as our future tenant and family friend.. If you really impress me by taking good care of our house then you will be allowed to stay as long as you wish okay cause we have decided not to sell our property anymore with the property management.
This is the address of the house:
Charlottesville, VA 22903
So get back to me on how you could take care of our house or perhaps experience you have in renting home. Hope you are okay with the price of $700/month and $500 for security deposit with hydro, heat laundry facilities, air condition and so on. PETS ARE WELCOME!
I am looking forward to hear from you ASAP so that i can forward you an application to fill out and discuss on how to get the house for rent, also are you ready to rent it now or when? Await your reply.