I literally believe that intelligent people in Third World countries sit in their cubicles all day in order to come up with new scams. It's probably a more legitimate job than we in America might imagine, not to say that all scammers are overseas. I'm sure plenty of Americans take it beyond pyramid marketing, but I also know that something as audacious as the latest real estate scam I witnessed is certainly not local because the perpetrator would certainly be in local jail by now. In fact, there's a very good chance the scammer can't even read what I am writing right now, but you better be careful or he'll get your money or steal your Craigslist ad.
Here's the simple way the scam runs. Someone posts a house for rent (or sale). Scammer copies and pastes some text and photos from the ad into a Craigslist ad, listing it for less than half the original price. Scammer waits for excited and surprised renters or buyers who readliy fill out some kind of qualification form that charges money, presumably to run a credit check. Scam ends. My neighbor told me that people show up wondering what happened to their applications. Others show up trying to see the house that is too good to be true in order to peer into windows. My neighbor also told me it does not help to use a realtor, and it happened to her two years ago, meaning this scam is nothing new. However, it's just as annoying to me today as it was to her then. And it preys on the people who have the least, excited about a chance to qualify for a house in an area they normally could not afford.
I contacted the local police, but I've contacted MPD before with nothing to show for it (I guess they wait until I hunt down the scammer in order to respond). My other plan is to search CL and flag the ads. I'll see if CL has any kind of real system set up for dealing with criminals, but I'm pretty sure it does not. The last thing I can do is post my experiences here. In fact, all of you can do the same by writing or commenting on articles that try to expose scams. I'll at least post one of the emails used by the scammer so that people can possibly figure it out by searching for the address. I am also posting images of the ads so you can see the format used: no phone number, few photos, shortened description. Then again, a lot of folks post to CL in exactly that way, so not a huge help.
I keep getting people calling me and asking for basic info that is in the real ad, so I'm thinking they are either scammers themselves, not terribly bright, or just people who walked by and saw the sign and forgot the info listed outside the house. However, it's also forced me to stop answering the phone in order to screen the calls for scams, too. And that means I will likely not respond to at least a couple of decent potential tenants who simply don't know how to leave a message that doesn't sound like a scam to me.
Two of the four (five by next day) scam ads are below, as well as the return contact from when I emailed for more information. I also met a near-victim today. She showed me an email from the scammer using the outlook account. His name is Marcus and his phone number is 918-617-6031. Craigslist sent an automated reply to my complaint. Milwaukee Police have yet to do anything, three days into the ordeal. However, I did call Marcus. He sounded confused and tired. Maybe we should all give him a call. I submitted the info to the FBI, so we'll see if the info I've compiled here helps protect our citizens. I hope Marcus appreciates all the extra work I've had to put in so that I could track him down while trying to rent my house. The gmail acount is linked to someone who goes by godwill james, the highest concentration of folks with this name is in Nigeria.
When I responded to the ad, here's the email I got back in return:
Thanks for your interest in my place-
543 N 93rd St,Milwaukee, WI 53226
I'v just moved to florida on a business contract for a period of six years that is why am looking for a clean and responsible person to stay in my house. I am a Quantity Surveyor who loves to travel a lot from place to place on a contract basis.
Type of House: Its a spacious and lovely 3 bedroom fully furnished house with utilities included. The kitchen is well equipped.Utilities and Equipment: Kitchen well equipped(microwave oven, Dish washer, blender, Cocktail mixer, Sandwich maker, stove e.t.c), all utilities included such as Internet facilities,Parking space, e.t.c.
Rental fees : $880 per month including electricity and cable
Security deposit : $880 (refundable )
The rent is made very affordable because i am seriously looking for a clean and reliable person to take care of my house. Well I am not after the money, what i am after is the welfare of my place.
PLEASE NOTE THIS : I would appreciate it if you respect the terms of the rental ,i am not available to do a showing that is why i want you to drive by to the building today to view the exterior of the place so you can get a better view of the building and you can also speak with the neighbors about the place then get back to me so that I can forward you the full interior pictures ,and you can have an idea how beautiful and spacious the inside looks. If interested then we can proceed to the application . Also you can either go for short term / long term . You can also get the place unfurnished / furnished if you want .
I look forward to hearing from you.
I just got an email from someone in Illinois, and it appears Marcus is now scammy Sammy:
Hi Brian, my name is ________ and I live in champaign IL. I happen to reach out to a particular ad on Craigslist about a house for rent. I made contact with this person named Justin Sam White. We have emailed each other back and forth and I finally did some research because I know dealing with Craigslist can be sketchy. This man texted me from the phone number that you wrote about in your article and he sent me the same response that you showed also in your article. I just wanted to reach out and let you know that your "Marcus" is probably my "Sam". I just wanted to reach out and say that this man is still out there.
It sucks that neither the FBI nor Craigslist have gotten the phone number banned, if nothing else.
Also, Michelle Williamson still emails me about a room for rent. This is the other side of the scam: the potential tenant. Michelle's classic email (that has probably been blocked) is [email protected]
I still think it would be hillarious if Michelle emailed Marcus and they tried to scam each other, but they probably work in the same office.