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Renters beware scam ads

Authorities say if an online ad for a rental house sounds too good to be true, it probably is a lie. Do not send money.

January 07, 2010|By Joseph Serna

When Stephanie Rothman spotted an online posting in December for a Costa Mesa home renting for $1,300 a month, it seemed too good to be true.

“You never know,” Rothman said. “I got excited. I thought, ‘Whoa. This sounds really great.’ We were all excited. It would be a perfect situation in terms of the size of the house.”

Indeed, ads offering homes for minimal rent like the one Rothman was looking at — four bedrooms, three bathrooms — in Costa Mesa’s East Mesa Verde neighborhood, would be perfect.

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Perfect, that is, if it were true.

In Rothman’s case, the advertiser said they were renting the house but had to rush to Africa to make a bid on some oil reserves so they could not show the house, open the house, or give the keys until they received the first month’s payment of $1,300.

The advertiser did not return requests for comment.

“They find trusting people. They find someone vulnerable, someone who may need reasonable rent,” said FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller. “Consumers just have to be cautious. A healthy dose of skepticism is a good thing.”

Fortunately for Rothman, who lives in Huntington Beach, her skepticism kicked in as soon as she e-mailed the person who posted the ad on Craigslist.org.

The listing, for a home that big and that cheap in a nice neighborhood, was bogus.

It was a scam by people halfway across the world hoping to sucker someone out of some money, authorities said.

It’s a variation of all those scams people get through e-mail claiming they won money, or someone just needs a small deposit to release millions of dollars in funds in Africa, Canada or Europe, officials said.

“If you notice, you will discover that the price we are offering is far below standard price, this is enough for you to know that we are not after the rental fee but the absolute care for the property,” the advertiser explained to Rothman through e-mail. “I know there is no way I can be sure that you are the right person to live in the house because we won’t be able to see physical before sending you the keys and the documents to occupy the space.”

Local real estate agents said they’ve had to endure such scams for awhile, and often get confused calls from people responding to something on Craigslist.

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