Online Scammers Target Local Rentals

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - July 08, 2009
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I received an e-mail from Erica Lindenberger, a local woman who is concerned that some unsuspecting person may fall prey to a scam she found on Craigslist. Lindenberger, a nurse who is close to retirement age, likes to look for rental bargains - it’s sort of a hobby for her - so these ads immediately caught her eye. They target Hawaii folks who want to find a cheap home to rent - and, really, who doesn’t? I called her first, then checked out Craigslist and found that the listing she initially sent had already been tagged for removal. So she obligingly sent me several more. I think it’s worth a mention, because I know the scammers are counting on reeling in a few unsuspecting fish before the ads are spotted and removed.

The first ad Lindenberger sent me lists an attractive home in the “Koko Terrace” area. Ms. Lindenberger was skeptical, bless her heart, so she sent an e-mail asking about the property. Here’s part of the reply:

“Hello Thanks for the email. I DR Teruya Toyoko ... and also want you to know that it was due to my transfer that makes me and my wife to leave the house and also want to give it out for rent and looking for a responsible person that can take a very good care of it as we are not after the money for the rent but want it to be clean all the time and the possible tenant will see the house as his or her own. We are going to be gone for 2 years or more.

We have left the Honolulu and we are currently in West Africa for our missionary call. Before we left the Honolulu for West Africa, we look for a reputable agent that will take a very good care of the house while we are away but could not found any so we left with the house keys and document when leaving. If you will be the right tenant to our house, we will get the keys and documents of the house sent to you via courier services as soon as all terms are settled.”

Here’s another example from the ads Lindenberger sent me - similar appeal, really pushing the religion angle:

Thanks for your much interest in my Apartment, I hope you would eventually become our tenant, I will be glad to have a perfect person like you as our tenant, for you sound nice and interesting to have as tenant .I am a Reverend (A Missionary) I was transferred to WEST AFRICA for a missionary work of God, I will be there for about 3 or 4Years .I just need someone with an open heart, love and clean to occupy the apartment and put all our worries off concerning the maintenance of the apartment…”

These scam artists always claim to be in some other part of the world - doing God’s work, of course! - and therefore unable to meet with you directly. But they will send you an “application” and if you are “acceptable” they will ask for your deposit, and promise to send keys and documents by courier or FedEx:

“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 over to me so that I can get the keys and papers sent to you via FedEx or ups e.t.c, also are you ready to rent it now or when? Await your reply. I will be willing to send the inside view of the building if you demands for it. The good Lord has been good to me, I am paying him back with my missionary call. I could let you remain in the house till I come back if you are a good tenant.”

If you want to see more, they e-mail pictures they steal from actual listings.

They use real local addresses, so that if you get suspicious they can invite you to drive by the property to check it out.

Their asking prices are low enough ($700, $850, $900, $1,000 for apartments and houses worth much more) to catch the eyes of families searching for that most elusive thing - a good deal in today’s tight local rental market.

Lindenberger, a sharp cookie who just wants to help people hang onto their money, has a word of advice: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” She says education of the public is the only weapon we’ve got against the criminals.

So, thanks for the warning, Erica Lindenberger. You may have saved some families some major grief. You’re one of the good ones.

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