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VOL. 35 | NO. 40 | Friday, October 7, 2011




Gullibility is keeping Internet scammers busy

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Craigslist provides an outlet for almost everything, from real estate to lingerie and all the materials necessary to fill both or either. The Craigslist visitor may buy or lease, hire or fleece and, according to a CNN documentary, the founder and president worried more about the transaction fee then the legality of the transaction.

When it comes to real estate, fraud abounds on Craigslist. The most pervasive is fleeting and occurs when homes are priced for sale on the market. When a house is listed on RealTracs, the regional multiple listing service, it is available for other websites such as Homes.com, Realtor.com and others. And if the listing agent subscribes to a service such as The DailyClassifieds.com, the listing is automatically sent to Zillow.com, Trulia.com, Googlebase.com, LYCOS, military.com, oodle.com, hotpads.com and others.

On the plus side, this provides homebuyers and renters the opportunity to let their fingers do the driving through neighborhoods and developments miles apart with subtle strokes on a keyboard. However, it also gives shysters a quick and easy inventory of properties to use as bait to scam or deceive.

Once a property is listed, scammers can steal the intellectual material, including copyrighted photographs, descriptive verbiage, as well as room dimensions and amenities. The most commonly reported scheme occurs when the perpetrator places these homes that are actually for sale on Craigslist as rental properties for a monthly lease that is significantly less than the market. For example, they might choose a home in Green Hills that is listed for sale for $1 million and announce that it is for rent at $2,500 a month. A property of that value should rent for at least twice that amount.

It is unfortunate that the financial environment we share leaves even the most educated and experienced among us in a hopeful state that can evolve into a condition of gullibility.

According to “owner” instructions on Craigslist, a one-month deposit is required – wired into an account – to hold the property. In most cases, potential renters drive by the home and sensing the opportunity to dwell in such an affluent area send the money immediately. These houses eventually sell, which removes them from all of the databases, and the opportunity to manipulate the data vanishes.

There recently was a new twist to the scam, and I was victimized. I admit I had never completely understood the term “stolen identity.” The brilliant troubadour and Nashville area denizen Steve Forbert’s song Stolen Identity was helpful.

Forbert lamented “I worked all week each month this fall / and also had myself a ball / I punched a clock each day like most / and also shopped the whole east coast / There ain’t no telling where I’ll be / because of late there’s two of me / One has tons of fun for free / with my stolen identity.”

In my case, a person using Craigslist as a resource and home base posted a beachfront condo in Honolulu for lease for $2,700 per week. The listing agent was Richard Courtney, complete with the photo that appears in this column, my website and credentials, and an email address with the name Courtney included.

Occasionally, a person leery of the validity of the deal would call and I would inform them that it was simply another Craig’s List scam and that it was not my listing and, similar to the Nashville Craigslist fraud, it would disappear.

In this case, it only intensified and people were arriving in Hawaii that had paid the $2,700 only to find the address did not exist and that they had no place to stay. Several victims angry with “me” called. I called U.S. Congressman Jim Cooper, whose office contacted the FBI, whose office referred the case to the Hawaii Office of Consumer Affairs. This calmed the situation for a few weeks, and then the other Richard Courtney re-emerged with a new email address but my website. Again I contacted Rep. Cooper.

The congressman informed me that conditions such as these occur every few seconds. He cited the email that claimed that a dignitary from a foreign country who has left the email recipient millions of dollars that began to appear some 15 years ago. These emails continue due to the fact that nearly 10 percent of the time, the email recipients actually send the crooks the money.

We are still trying to eliminate the other Richard Courtney. I don’t think I would be as forgiving as the character in Steve Forbert’s song, who stated “I hope to meet myself someday / that is, the man whose bills I pay / We’ll both get wined and caviared / if he’ll pull out the credit card.”

I wonder if it’s a crime to commit assault and battery on oneself.

Richard Courtney is a real estate broker and the author of “Come Together: The Business Wisdom of Beatles” and can be reached at his real email address Richard@RichardCourtney.com

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