Latest Internet Scam: Homes for Rent

Warning: if the landlord is in Nigeria, think twice.

ByABC News
September 11, 2008, 5:58 PM

Sept. 12, 2008— -- Last month Val Dennis was searching the Internet for a new place to live when she stumbled on the perfect deal: a nice house, in the right neighborhood at a great price.

Almost too perfect.

After talking with the landlord she wired a deposit to Nigeria and got one step closer to moving in. Unfortunately, she stumbled into the latest twist in the long history of Internet scams: a housing ad that looks legitimate but is just really a way to part people and their money.

Dennis is out $650 and still searching for a new home.

In this tight economy, Internet scams are on the rise and they have adapted to play off America's housing struggles.

Scammers often find legitimate properties for rent online. They then steal the description and photos and post their own ads on Craigslist and other Internet classified sites, often asking a few hundred dollars less than the actual property. If a prospective tenant drives by the home or apartment, they see a real "for rent" sign.

Sign Up for Our RSS Feed and Get the Latest Business Headlines From ABC News

Dennis, who lives in Dayton, Nev., just started a new job 40 miles away working as a clinical lab technician at a Reno hospital. She, her husband and their 11-year-old son decided it was time to move closer to Reno.

That's when she found an ad for the home on Craigslist. Dennis contacted the person who placed the ad. He claimed he had recently been transferred to Africa and was now looking to rent out his home.

"The apartment is locked and I have the keys so you can only see the exterior," the fake landlord wrote in an e-mail to Dennis.

She then filled out a housing application and e-mailed it back and quickly got approved.

"I want you to know that i'm satisfied with your profile and also believe l can trust in you l showed your profile to my wife and daughter ,they said they are ok with it.l want you to know that we can let you stay in my House till the period of time you wish to," the scammer e-mailed. "I want you to know that the rent fee is among the House utilities all included, so you can use them anytime but make sure you take proper care of my properties.We will come and pay you a visit after you have moved into my House to see how you are maintaining it."