There are several Craigslist Scams going on in Great Falls Montana, but one that continues to show up in the Great Falls area involves a fake Craigslist listing offering a house for rent for hundreds of dollars less than actual rental price.
The scammer takes the pictures and description of an actual home for rent from another website (for example Zillow.com) and creates a new listing advertising it for an extremely low rate, usually several hundred below market. They run this ad on Craigslist in hopes that an unsuspecting tenant will think they found a landlord who does not understand how much they could rent the property for and it makes them want to grab it in a hurry before anyone else gets it. The advertised rent will often includes the utilities making it even more irresistible.
When the prospective tenant contacts the “home owner” which at this time is only via email, the will get an email back explaining that the homeowner had to move out of the county, usually to somewhere like Africa, on a mission, or they have had some other type of job transfer (possibly military). They have the prospective tenant fill out an application and then they offer the property to them. Since they are out of the country, the tenant will need to wire the deposit to them before they can get in to see the property. Once the deposit is received they will send the keys. For now they can peak in the windows…
Here is what actually happens: The tenant wires the money to another country and they never hear back from the scammers. At this point the money is gone – for good.
A variation on this scam involves a home that is actually for sale, not for rent, and the scammer convinces the prospective tenant that they are no longer working with the Realtor who has the sign in the yard and they have decided to rent it.
A major safety concern of ours is that many of these homes are occupied. An overzealous tenant will often walk around a property, peak in windows (because the scammer told them to) and try the doors. In Montana where the average homeowner owns several guns, a person peaking in the windows and opening the door could be met with a very scared, armed homeowner.
Sadly several people in town have been taken on this scam, even though we have been on TV and in the newspaper warning folks about it, and have filed police reports.
Here is the moral of the story: If it sounds too good to be true…it most likely is.