Phony Craigslist home listings are a problem, but why can't law enforcement do much to help?

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Confusion turned to anger for property manager Joe Taylor after a prospective tenant he'd never spoken to called to move ahead with a rental she found online.

"She said your property is posted on Craigslist, and I'm ready to pay my deposit," Taylor said.

The problem was while it was his property, it wasn't his post. The email address the tenant had been corresponding with for several days wasn't Taylor's either. Instead, the property details, address, and pictures were lifted from Taylor's listing and copied onto Craigslist with a reduced price and new contact info.

In emails back and forth with a woman interested in the home, the lister told her he was renting the home from of state. He wrote, 'Please take note: You can only drive by and see my apartment from the outside.' He went on to ask for a deposit before mailing the keys." Taylor said that's a big misstep.

"Cash is usually a dead giveaway," Taylor said. "Beware of cash. Beware of anything online where they want you to send money to them and they'll mail you keys. That doesn't happen. Usually, it's a scam."

Taylor quickly reported the case to the Lexington County Sheriff's Department. But two weeks later, the phony listing's still live online.

"You mean a scammer can take that and my pictures and my information, go on a site like Craigslist and say it's his? Therefore, he could end up ruining my business and my information," Taylor said.

Taylor said he felt the sheriff's department wasn't doing enough to get to the bottom of his case. But when we reached out, they told us it's tough.

A department spokesman said that in many of these cases, the person responsible is working from another country, making it tough to press charges.

Instead, the sheriff's department said its best method for combatting scams like this one online or over the phone is on the front end, warning the public not to fall prey.

A few general safety tips from LCSD include:

  • Before you begin shopping online, secure your computer by updating your security software. Every computer should have antivirus software, antispyware,
  • and antispam software, as well as a good firewall. Firewalls and antivirus software are the first lines of defense. They help keep your computer safe and secure.
  • Keep your personal information private and your password secure. Don’t respond to any requests to “verify” your password or credit card information unless you initiated the contact. Legitimate businesses won’t ask for this information.
  • Beware of bargains from unfamiliar companies. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
  • Use secure websites for purchases. Look for the icon of a locked padlock at the bottom of the screen or “https” in the URL address. They indicate that you are dealing with a secure website.
  • Shop with companies you know and trust. Check a company’s background if you’re not familiar with it.
  • Donate to charities online only if you have investigated the charity. Be sure that the charity’s site is secure or make your donation through the mail.
  • Consider alternate options to pay for your merchandise, such as onetime or multiuse disposable credit cards or money orders, at online stores and auction sites. Also, make sure you know all the rules and policies of these sites.

Copyright 2017 WIS. All rights reserved.