New Internet scam promises home rentals
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain Sun-Times Media July 30, 2012 1:25PM
Glenn Sharp, a realtor with Remax Utlimate Professionals stands near a web notice on Craigslist regarding a scam while at his office in Shorweood, IL on Friday July 20, 2012. One of his rental listings was lifted by a scammer and placed as an ad on Craigslist. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 1, 2012 6:06AM
Samantha Chamblee of Shorewood was looking for a new home to rent recently when she found an online listing for a Plainfield house that intrigued her.
The “unique” six-bedroom home with a finished basement was available for only $1,200 a month, according to a Craigslist ad. Even better, the ad said cats and dogs were welcome. Chamblee has a 96-pound yellow Labrador, so that last part was important.
“It was perfect,” she said.
But the 28-year-old Chamblee was Internet savvy enough to know the ad was suspicious.
She clicked on the ad’s email link out of curiosity and got a strange response in choppy English from someone who said she had been transferred to Western Africa and would be out of the country for five years.
The response included a link to the home’s address.
When Chamblee clicked on that link, she was taken to an online map of the address that also featured a real estate listing for the same property posted by Glenn Sharp, an agent with Re/Max Ultimate Professionals in Shorewood.
In Sharp’s Re/Max ad, the home was listed for $2,200 a month.
So Chamblee called Sharp and said something was “a little fishy” with the Craigslist ad featuring the same house.
Sharp was unaware of any Craigslist ad for the home. When he investigated, he was shocked.
The Internet ad was not only for the same Plainfield home in the Clearwater Springs subdivision, it used a picture Sharp snapped with his own camera.
“It’s kind of screwy, and it’s scary,” he said.
“It’s like someone is trying to take advantage of me and my client, and stealing business from me. They’re preying on people who are trying to find a place to live.”
Sharp said Chamblee, who has since decided to stay put in Shorewood, was wise to be cautious.
“There are not too many six-bedroom houses out there for $1,200,” he said.
Kristine Tennant and her husband moved to Roselle in 2010, and they have been renting out the Plainfield home ever since.
Tennant was so upset that someone was using her home in an Internet scam, she said she has asked her old neighbors to keep an eye on the residence to make sure only Sharp shows it.
“It really scares me,” she said. “This is still our house, and we’re still paying on all of this.”
Sharp isn’t the only real estate agent to have his multiple listing ad hijacked by scammers.
It’s happening all over Illinois, said Loretta Alonzo, who is president of the Illinois Real Estate Association and lives in Romeoville.
Typically what happens is the scammer asks the potential client to send a security deposit and one month’s rent, and the key will be delivered in a couple of days — but it never is.
Her association has sent warnings to local real estate associations and also has filed complaints with the FBI and Illinois attorney general’s office.
Craigslist has been quick to remove bogus ads when there is a complaint, she added.
Sharp said potential renters should be cautious before handing over rent money.
Make sure the person who is collecting your money can show a mortgage statement with their name on it to prove they own the property, Sharp said.
“You have to make sure you’re being protected and not scammed,” he said.
Alonzo said the real estate charade is just the lastest wrinkle in Internet scams.
“Consumers should just be very careful and wary,” she said.
“If it’s too good to be true — it probably is.”