ELGIN, SC (WIS) - Craigslist receives more than 100 million new posts every month and that means billions in merchandise is bought and sold online, most times with no direct contact between the buyer and seller.
Fraudsters have found it's the perfect place to take advantage of customers and that's what happened to an Elgin woman.
When April Boivin's enlisted husband was recently reassigned, she started the search for a renter for their Elgin home.
"Craigslist is the No. 1 site for getting out there and finding a home and finding a job, but it's just not being monitored like it should be," April said.
Her ad was posted for a four bedroom, 1,400 square foot home for $1,200 a month.
"It's kind of a bummer because we got so many calls from people who were interested and they weren't interested in our ad," April said.
An almost identical second ad was posted within an hour of the original post, April said.
"It was the same post with all of my pictures of my house, but it was for $700, fully furnished and there was someone with the email of firstname.lastname@example.org who was renting it," April said.
An ad inviting those interested to peer through the windows, despite April and her baby still there.
Suddenly people were parking outside when Robin Gonzalez drove by.
"Elgin is very hard to find anything," Gonzales said.
Wanting to stay in the school district, even she noticed the differing ads and emailed both.
"The one that had $700, I asked if they were the owner and they said, of course, 'yes,' and the $1,200 never answered me," Gonzalez said.
When the application included, "Do you agree to pay the payment before you move in?" Gonzalez said she became suspicious.
"He was trying to say $700 and all utilities included, you hardly never get one utility included, never the less all of them so, how is that possible?" Gonzalez said.
About the same time April, the true homeowner, decided to reach out to email@example.com never guessing what was next.
"So when I actually talked to him on the phone he said, 'Oh hello, this is Cory' and I said, 'Oh hi Cory, knowing that it wasn't my husband and I played along," April said.
April filled out the application, calling his bluff, renting her own home. With cameras rolling she called back the man posing as her husband one more time.
Quickly he steers the conversation toward money.
He gives April, Jessica Gustavus' name and an address in Houston, Texas after walking her through how to use Western Union.
"Once you are done with the payment just text me the confirmation number, I get an address, I get name," Corey told April over the phone.
April never sent the money, but WIS found the address to wire the money in Houston, Texas, at least online.
The owner is listed as Maria and Rigoberta Flores, not Jessica. The phone he's using is a Little Rock, Arkansas phone number, connected to Google voice meaning he could be calling from anywhere. Ads for homes in Easley South Carolina, St. Paul, Minnesota, and Tallahassee, Florida all came up with the same Google phone number, but not all on Craigslist, using different websites including Zillow.
WIS reached out to the imposter on phone but he who wouldn't call back, he just texted when we weren't up for filling out his questionnaire.
Houston police tell WIS financial crimes like these are a big problem in the area. It's everywhere, even here in Columbia.
The Department of Consumer Affairs cautions anyone responding to an online ad, especially ads that look to gain your trust, using emails like firstname.lastname@example.org.
"I am on mission in Africa or I am deployed, or something like that, something that sounds noble, so you really trust the person," said Juliana Harris with the Department of Consumer Affairs.
Harris recommends a face-to-face meeting with anyone you rent or buy from.
"If you're renting you definitely want to meet the person, go in the house, don't just take an outside look at the house because obviously a scammer could just meet you in front of the house and do that," Harris said.
The Department of Consumer Affairs recommends asking for references, get a contract in writing before handing over any money, and pay using a credit card, never a wire transfer.
"They want you to wire transfer the money or send it in some untraceable way like that that's a red flag too," Harris said.
Robin said it's made her wary.
"Now every time I'm on Craig's list I have to triple check, not even double check anymore," Gonzalez said.
While April reported the crime to police in Elgin and Houston, she's not certain police will catch up with the man using her home to deceive others.
"I don't know if he was in this country to be honest, if he is then he's in Arkansas, but I highly doubt it," April said.
April warned those she could by email.
The financial fraud unit in Houston continues to investigate the case.
Calls to Craigslist have not been returned.