A couple planning to move to Hinesville in September recently discovered the house they rented via Craigslist was actually listed by local real-estate agent Brigitte Cabeza-Shanken with Coldwell Banker, Holtzman Realtors. They were scammed.
Shanken said her client’s Hinesville home never was listed on Craigslist. Nonetheless, she said someone created an email address in her client’s name and corresponded with couples interested in renting the house, which they saw on Craigslist, complete with pictures of the home and a list of amenities.
“I have already reported this to the police department in Hinesville,” Shanken said. “At least four people I know of have made contact with whoever is trying to get rent money from my client’s property. They created an email and used her and her husband’s name for this fake rental listing. And my client doesn’t have a husband.”
Shanken said the scammer told interested renters that her client and husband now live in California. They were having trouble selling their house in Hinesville, so they decided to rent it. One message even mentioned a real-estate agent’s sign in the yard as evidence they had been trying to sell the house.
Interested renters were asked to complete a rental application that required personal details, including name; current home address; email address; and home, work and cellphone numbers. The application also asked for similar information on three personal references. They were not asked for Social Security numbers or account numbers.
A lease agreement signed by the scammer posing as her client’s fictional husband included a California phone number.
Email traffic between the scammer and the victims began in mid-July. The victim, who was living in New Hampshire at the time while her husband attended advanced individual training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, told the scammer she was interested in learning more about the property. She said her husband was slated to come to Fort Stewart when he completed his training. This was their first military assignment.
“After they paid $1,150 cash for the first month’s rent and security deposit, they were told they would receive a package that would contain the keys, signed lease agreement, house information and payment receipt,” Shanken said. “They were also told when they were in town, they had permission to stop by the house and look in the windows, but when their friends saw my sign in the yard, they became suspicious.”
Brigitte Shanken’s husband, Jimmy Shaken, who also is a real-estate agent, said a similar scam recently occurred on Tybee Island. He said someone apparently wired a cash deposit to an online contact to rent a vacation home on the island. When they arrived and tried to check in at the vacation home, they learned that the source they were dealing with had no authority to rent the property. Someone else was already renting it legitimately.
The Shankens said it’s important for people to know their real-estate agent and to be suspicious of online contacts. These experienced local real-estate agents warn against renting or buying something online without first seeing the property in person or talking face-to-face with the real-estate agent.