St. Louis, Mo., Feb. 12, 2014
- Better Business Bureau
(BBB) is advising bi-state residents to be on guard for identity thieves who are using bogus ads for rental homes to steal personal information.
In one recent case, a scammer used a phony Craigslist advertisement to convince a St. Louis consumer to surrender information that potentially could be used to steal his identity. It included his date of birth, Social Security number and financial information.
The consumer became suspicious after researching email correspondence from the supposed homeowner. He found that the identical correspondence had been used for years to trick potential renters across the nation.
Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, says the case should serve as a warning that thieves could be lurking around every corner. “Just about the time you think ‘I’m too smart for that,’ somebody’s taken your money or your personal information,” Corey said. “Keep your guard up; always be vigilant.”
In the recent case, the thief posted a Craigslist ad offering a two-bedroom brick home in a “pretty wooded setting” in St. Louis for $410 a month. The scammer even posted several exterior and interior photos of the home.
The only problem was that the person who placed the ad never owned the home. The photos and description were copied from a legitimate online ad that was offering the property for sale.
In an email, the thief noted: “I will be happy to show the house at an agreed upon time and date but I do require that all applicants and additional renters who will be living in the home complete a free credit report to ensure their eligibility.”
The email provided a link to a questionnaire, which asked for personal information.
The full email, which is several paragraphs long, is identical to emails that have been used in similar classified ad scams in New Jersey, Virginia, Alaska and several other states.
The emails all maintain that the purported landlord “had to stop giving out the exact address of rental properties . . . because the last time I did that the house was vandalized (I will be glad to send you the address right after your reply).”
Once the St. Louis consumer gave out his personal information, the thief cut off all contact.
The emails, under various names, have been found in rental scams dating to 2010.
Often, the ads entice prospective customers with low monthly rental rates.
BBB offers the following advice to people responding to ads for rental properties:
- Never pay any money upfront without inspecting the property.
- Do not surrender any credit information until you have proof that the owner is legitimate. Ask to inspect the property; request proof of ownership.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Confirm that the owner is giving you his or her real name by asking for references and contacting them.
- If you are asked to pay in advance, pay by credit card whenever possible in case you need to challenge the charge.
- Research any business by checking its BBB Business Review at www.bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300.
Contacts (News Media Only): Michelle Corey, President & CEO, 314-645-0606, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Chris Thetford, Vice President-Communications, 314-584-6743, email@example.com, or Bill Smith, Trade Practice Investigator, 314-584-6727, firstname.lastname@example.org