Chris Hansen of NBC's Dateline did an episode of 48 Hours entitled Wild, Wild Web where a scam artist was shown to have ripped off a single mother for $1200. An ad was placed on CraigsList for a home for rent. The only trouble was that the house wasn't really for rent, and the person running the ad wasn't really the owner.
This scam has been going on for several years and it is very difficult for the authorities to stop. The scammers are usually overseas and hide behind fictitious phone numbers and phony email addresses. The common thread is that there are no real estate agents involved in these deals! They are all "For Rent By Owner".
What the scam artist does is to copy a picture of a property that is listed for sale along with all of the detailed information about the house or condo. They usually advertise the property for just under the market value to get lots of calls. Once an unsuspecting renter contacts them, they give all kinds of excuses why they can't meet them at the property.
In one instance, we believe the scammers were actually in Myrtle Beach and asked to see the property with one of our agents with Coldwell Banker Chicora. We believe they unlocked a window and then gained access to the property later on, leaving the door open for the unsuspecting renter. Later, when our agent was showing the property to another buyer, they discovered someone was moving in. When that person arrived with more boxes, they stated that they had called about renting the property, looked at it because the door was left open for them and sent their money to the P.O. Box given to them.
Needless to say, they did not move in and the property has subsequently sold, but this scam is repeated over and over again. Coldwell Banker Chicora always reports these instances to the local police and the FBI, but to our knowledge, nobody has been caught. We're not sure about the young lady that was on the Dateline show but Chris Hansen had her dead to rights about what she had been doing. She walked off saying she wouldn't answer any more of his questions, but we're hoping the police were close by!
So remember, when shopping for real estate, whether for rental or purchase, be sure to use a licensed real estate agent which will give you much greater protection. Ask them to show you their real estate license - they are required to carry it all times. If they don't have one or can't provide it immediately, run the other way. For additional protection, use a REALTOR®. These licensed individuals not only have a real estate license, but subscribe to a strict Code of Ethics which gives the consumer another avenue to get help if things go wrong.