Diane Siddons got the call from Brandie Darnell in the middle of the day. Darnell had seen Siddons’ house advertised for rent on Craigslist and thought it was a smokin’ deal: $800 a month for a five bedroom house in a Tampa Bay, Fla., suburb.
Only one problem: Siddons’ house wasn’t for rent. She hadn’t placed any advertisement on Craigslist. Instead, a con artist had lifted photos of her home and placed them on the site as bait.
The ad made the home sound perfect for a small family, with 2.5 baths and a nice yard. Even cable TV was included. The price wasn’t completely out of line, so Darnell got the address from the alleged seller and drove by to see the place. She spotted a “for sale” sign with a real estate agent’s phone number on it and, after a brief phone call, learned she had been caught in an attempted scam.
Put Siddons on a small but growing list of Internet crime victims who never face the prospect of losing money. Instead their property or identity is borrowed for use in a ruse.
The con is simple. The alleged renter lures an apartment seeker with a realistic-looking ad — so realistic that the pictures match the address, so the ad will pass a drive-by test. But when the home-seeker contacts the renter, there’s no way to get inside the home. The renter supposedly is traveling, or on a two-year assignment in some distant place. “Send a deposit,” the con artists writes, “and I’ll send the keys.”
“It was really unnerving,” Siddons said. “We were concerned that someone would knock on my door and say, ‘Hey, we just rented this place, get out!’”
No one knows how many people are victimized by faux Craigslist ads – the firm says it’s a tiny fraction of 30 million monthly posts – but clearly, fake ads are hitting some people hard.