Outer Banks Renters Are Getting Ripped Off By Phony craigslist Ads

Outer Banks Renters Are Getting Ripped Off By Phony craigslist Ads

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From the Jeff Hampton of the Virginian-Pilot…

KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C. — Single mother Terry Wilson thought she found a good deal on Craigslist: A three-bedroom house in Kill Devil Hills was renting for $1,290 a month.

After paying $2,790 up front to cover the first month’s rent, a $1,000 security deposit and a $500 pet fee, she started moving her belongings.

Then the real owner and a realtor showed up.

“Honey, you’ve been scammed,” they told her, according to Wilson.

Scammers are copying legitimate listings for Outer Banks rental homes and posting phony ads on Craigslist, according to Willo Kelly, CEO of the Outer Banks Association of Realtors.

The problem appears to have spiked during the coronavirus pandemic. At least 50 bogus listings have popped up in the past two weeks, Kelly said.

In some cases, two families are showing up at the same house — both thinking they rented the place.

Kelly said some homes are being targeted many times. One house in Colington has been posted daily for a week with different photos in each listing.

“It’s like bait and their waiting for somebody to throw their line out,” Kelly said. “Very sophisticated.”

Wilson said she didn’t think she was being scammed until the owner appeared at her door.

She explained she had to initially respond to the ad by email, but later spoke on the phone with a woman who said she was isolated in California and could not meet with her. The woman sent a copy of a driver’s license and what appeared to be a legitimate lease signed by an attorney.

“Everything looked real,” Wilson said.

The day she moved in, Wilson found the side door of the house open. She said she got permission from the woman she’d been speaking to to enter even though she hadn’t received a key.

After learning she’d been tricked, Wilson moved out. She’s now living at her mother’s house and a friend’s house in Elizabeth City and driving back and forth to work. Wilson called police, but so far she has not received an update.

The scammers cover their tracks well.

“It’s very difficult to figure out who’s doing these things,” said Dare County Sheriff Doug Doughtie.

Victims can call local police, the FBI, the Internet Fraud Complaint Center and the Federal Trade Commission, among others.

Kelly urged prospective renters to use caution. Phony ads, she said, generally show signs of fraud.

Typically, scammers choose vacant houses and provide contradictory information. A home for sale could have a rental price listed in the false ad. The number of bedrooms can conflict with the number shown in photos.

Scammers often say they are from California or Texas and never are able to meet in person. They rarely answer the phone and rely primarily on written communications.

Prices are almost always below market rate.

“They want to rent it quickly, that’s why the price is low,” Kelly said.

Nearly all Outer Banks rental homes are currently booked. They simply aren’t available and especially not at a reduced rate, she said.

It is best to deal with a property manager who can speak with you and meet in person, she said.

Similar scams across the country have increases during the coronavirus while people are doing more online transactions, according to Kelly.

An email to Craigslist was not immediately answered. A phone number was not available.

But the company provides tips on recognizing fraud, including:

  • Do not send money to anyone you have not met in person.
  • Deal with locals you can meet.
  • Never wire funds.
  • Never give out financial information.
  • Do not rent or purchase sight-unseen.
  • Refuse background or credit checks until meeting the landlord.

CLICK TO VIEW THE ARTICLE ON VIRGINIAN-PILOT ONLINE.

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