Monday, January 30, 2012

A Nigerian Rental Scam?

Oh, look! Interesting material for a skepticism post!

While I can’t say that I’m surprised, this is a scam that I had not previously heard about. Some friends of mine recently bought a house. While they were doing some remodeling one day, they got a peculiar visit.

While we were working at the new house today a couple showed up asking about renting it. When we said it's not for rent they asked, "why do you have it listed on Craigslist?" We looked. It is, including a picture and accurate description of the house. The cops told us that this is a popular new scam. People are pretending to rent houses they don't own and collecting deposits.

I’m curious where the scammer got the picture of their house. Perhaps the scammers are cruising real estate listings for likely targets; those would have pictures and other information about the house for use in fake ads, and some of them – at least – won’t actually have anyone living there to warn the marks.

V sent an email to the address provided on Craigslist to see if she would get a reply from the scammer. It actually didn’t take long for this reply to come:

"we were transferred to West Africa and we will be away for 5 years or more and this is why we are actually renting out the house,so if you are interested and will take good care of our house then we will be ready to accept you as our future tenant and family friend. If you really impress me by taking good care of our house then you will be allowed to stay as long as you wish okay."

V looked up the phone number provided: it’s literally a Nigerian number. Way to boost the national stereotype, dude! In the response, the scammer also asked for a litany of personal information and a $500 deposit, so this one qualifies for both advance fee fraud and identity theft.

So, if you’re looking for rental property on Craigslist or some other open sales site, you should be a little bit wary. Certainly don’t go giving away your social security number or a big deposit to someone in a distant country who you’ve never seen (and never will).

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