Investigation: Online Rental Scam Linked to Freeborn County

Posted at: 07/28/2013 10:41 PM
Updated at: 07/29/2013 3:45 AM

Craigslist Scam
Craigslist Scam
Photo: mgnonline

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- You often hear about internet scams where people end up losing thousands of dollars.

One through Craigslist was recently brought to our attention. A woman moving from Wisconsin found an ad for a home in Freeborn County. Turns out the ad was fake.

The woman contacted us about a home she thought was for rent here in Geneva, MN. The price seemed right, she looked at pictures of the inside and outside of the home and she made contact with the supposed homeowner through email. Turns out the home doesn't exist in Geneva, MN.

In an email our source got from the alleged homeowner, it asks for proof of a drivers license, first month's rent and a background check. To do that check, she was given a link to a website called Tenant Verified. It's a legitimate website. But upon investigation, our source found the link went to a site that merely looked identical to the real Tenant Verified website.

"I think this is one of the more ambitious scams I've seen in our area," said Dan Hendrickson of the Better Business Bureau.

We alerted him about the scam. He says with so many new online scams popping up, he's not surprised to hear about this one.

"This is well written and even uses some kind of Midwest language. I can see why someone would think this is legitimate," said Hendrickson.

More than 24,000 online scam complaints come into his office each year. Many are from overseas and have the same things in common, which should be red flags to you; misspellings and clunky language. He suggests working with a realtor to avoid any trouble. There's just one problem.

"Anybody from all over the world can access real estate info," said Tara Johnson, a realtor at Keller Williams Realty in Rochester, MN.

Real estate agents like Johnson are taken advantage of by scammers as well.

"It's frustrating," she said.

Her web page shows pictures of her clients' homes inside and out.  One time she found a client's listing on a Craigslist scam. A home for rent, that wasn't supposed to be.

"I actually responded to the ad to see what would happen. The price of the property was far lower than what market value would be," said Johnson.

Despite the risk, she says keeping photos on her website is just part of the business and helps get homes sold. Now warns her clients of these scams.

"If an ad you see online grabs your interest, copy the photo and run it through Google images," said Hendrickson.

That's what our source did and Hendrickson says that alone may have saved her thousands of dollars.

"It's great this consumer took the time to check this out," he said.

Some things to keep in mind if you're looking online to rent, always meet the property owner and tour the home before giving out money or personal information. Like the saying goes, if it's too good to be true, it probably is.