BANGOR, Maine — Housing rental scams that make use of online classified advertising websites such as Craigslist continue to be a problem in Maine, as a Bangor resident recently learned.
Michele Dwyer was the victim of an Internet-based housing rental scam, not once but twice over an eight-year period, she said.
Online housing rental scams typically involve people who collect money for property to which they have no legal right or for property that doesn’t exist at all.
“My house is for sale and the Craigslist spammer took my info from my [multiple listing service] posting and posted a fake for-rent posting on Craigslist,” said Dwyer, who is a Bangor Daily News employee.
“[The scammer] took a photo from online of my house and verbiage from my house for sale ad [copied and pasted] it and then put it on Craigslist, [offering to rent it] at the cheap, low price of $700 a month,” she said.
A three-bedroom house or apartment typically costs about $1,000 a month to rent in Bangor, according to area listings.
“This is not the first time this has been done,” Dwyer said. “When I bought my house eight years ago, another spammer did the same thing.”
Dwyer said that she became aware that the house she is selling was the subject of a phony rental ad when a friend saw it on Craigslist and asked if she could rent it.
The spammer did not include the address of Dwyer’s house in Bangor on the posting on Craigslist.
“I did flag the post and emailed Craigslist telling them it was a false ad,” Dwyer said. The ad, which purportedly was posted by a missionary working in Nigeria, claimed that the home was being rented out because the owner was going to be out of the country for an extended period of time.
Potential renters were asked to complete a form that included questions about how many months’ rent they could pay upfront and the earliest possible date of deposit.
In Maine, engaging in a housing rental scam could lead to a charge of theft by deception.
Timothy Feeley, spokesman for the Maine attorney general’s office, said that while the public is more aware of online rental scams, people continue to be duped.
“Over the last couple years, we would estimate that we have received about a dozen reports of Craigslist housing scams,” he said about the kind of scam where there was no actual apartment or house to rent.
The Better Business Bureau offers the following warning signs of scams:
— The deal sounds too good to be true. Scammers often list a rental for a low price to lure in victims. Find out how comparable listings are priced, and if the rental comes in suspiciously low, walk away.
— The landlord is located elsewhere and prefers to communicate by email. Scammers might say they have just been relocated out of the country for a job or missionary work — don’t believe it.
— The landlord requests a substantial deposit. Don’t pay any money before inspecting the home, inside and out.
— The landlord asks the renter to wire money. Money sent by wire transfer service is very difficult to retrieve and once the scammers have picked it up, there is little recourse.
Craigslist further advises that potential renters not accept cashier or certified checks or money orders because once those are cashed, banks hold you responsible.
In addition, Craigslist recommends that prospective renters refuse background or credit checks until they have met the landlord in person.