Brooke Bear was surprised when several people stopped by her home interested in renting it.
They referenced the ad she posted on Craigslist, but she isn’t renting out the house; she’s selling it, and she never posted an ad on Craigslist.
Bear knew something was fishy, so she hopped online and found the ad, which included a picture and description of her four-bedroom house, located in a rural area south of Deer Park, as well as an email address using her name.
“I was kind of scared,” she said. “I pulled it up and thought, ‘Who is doing this?’ You just kind of go, ‘Ew, creepy.’ ”
Posing as someone who might be interested in renting the home, she exchanged emails with the ad’s poster, who purported to be the homeowner. The “owner” claimed to be out of the country and asked for a minimum of the first month’s rent and a security deposit – $1,700 – sent through Western Union.
It was a scam, she quickly realized.
“Once I got the email I could see it was not very good English,” she said. “It had scam written all over it, to me.”
But she said the scammers have “really done their homework.”
“They were really trying to make it believable,” she said. “They were doing everything they could.”
And it was believable to the people who came by her house.
“She was pretty upset that she kind of got taken,” Bear said of one of her visitors. “She didn’t go as far as sending any money, but she did fill out the application. By the time she came and looked at the house she was thinking it was pretty legit. I think it was a big wake-up call for her. She felt pretty bad about it.”
Bear notified authorities about the scam, and the post has since been removed. Her biggest concern was that people would see the ad, think she’s out of the country and try to burglarize her home.
“I am not in a neighborhood where your neighbors are there to watch you,” she said. “I’m on 10 acres south of Deer Park. I did not want random people stopping by when my children were home. I had no idea how many people were going to stop by.”
Bear hopes sharing her story will raise awareness about the scam.
“Hopefully if we get the message out about the scam, other people when they list their house will know to check Craigslist,” she said.
Scams like this are fairly common, said Deputy Craig Chamberlin, Spokane County Sheriff’s Office spokesman.
“We hear about them sporadically, but I don’t think we hear about as many as there actually are due to embarrassment,” Chamberlin said. “I think people get embarrassed when they get burned. So I think it’s probably more common than we know about just because of that.”
Bear isn’t the only homeowner who has had strangers knocking on her door in response to a phony Craigslist ad. An unidentified Washington assistant attorney general who is selling her Spokane home also had people contacting her interested in renting it.
Dan Sytman with the state attorney general’s office warned consumers of the scam Thursday and said unsuspecting people have submitted applications with financial information that could be used to steal a person’s identity and sent a security deposits through Western Union to a person they believe is the landlord working in Nigeria.
“Of course, the story is a complete crock that we hear again and again,” he wrote in a blog post on the attorney general’s website.
Chamberlin stressed that people should do everything they can to verify the validity of any sales agreement like this and avoid sending money to someone they don’t know. When scams originate in another country, local authorities cannot prosecute and most victims never see their money again.
“If it’s a situation where it looks too good to be true … then it probably is,” he said. “If people are asking you to send money without going into the house, without having face-to-face contact, don’t do it.”