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Real estate agents advise people to be cautious of online ads

Millions of people across the country comb through the Craigslist's online classifieds daily looking for deals. But for a few people in the Bakken, a deal advertised on the site that seemed too good to be true actually was. Rhonda DeHaan, a Watfo...

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(Photo Courtesy of Watford City Real Estate Group) A Craigslist scam in which cheap rentals are posted and people are asked to send money in exchange for the keys to the house has been hitting the Bakken in the past year.

Millions of people across the country comb through the Craigslist's online classifieds daily looking for deals.

But for a few people in the Bakken, a deal advertised on the site that seemed too good to be true actually was.

Rhonda DeHaan, a Watford City real estate agent, recently had photos of one of her properties stolen and used on Craigslist post. The post claimed to be renting out a 1,293-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom home for $750 a month in the newly constructed Pheasant Ridge subdivision in Watford City. The house's listing price is $325,000.

"It's unfortunately a common scam," DeHaan said.

DeHaan had a person call her to ask about the property after seeing it on Craigslist.

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A Dickinson man looking to rent the home from the unknown Craigslist user told DeHaan he had been told to send the $750 deposit to a U.S. Post Office box and that the keys to the house would be sent to him later because the user had to leave town. If the man had sent money, there would have been no keys given in return.

Dickinson Police Capt. David Wilkie said it's difficult to prosecute those behind the scams because they are usually operating across international waters, where U.S. laws don't apply. Just like other ads on the site, he advises people to not transfer money through the mail, Internet or wire transfer.

"Just be smarter than they are," he advised.

Craigslist scams have been occurring in the Bakken for the past few years, say area real estate agents.

Shirley Dukart, broker associate with Home and Land Co. in Dickinson, was part of a scam last year when someone from another country posted photos of twin homes she was selling on Craigslist as their own.

Luckily, Dukart was called by a man asking about the home after he did some research online. Soon after, the Craigslist post was removed.

In that instance, Dukart was able to receive the scammer's information from communication between the interested renter and the scammer. She then reported it and the user was removed from the site.

Wilkie said though those who believe they are involved in a scam should report it to the authorities, it won't always solve the ever-revolving door of fraud.

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"You can report it, but that's not going to stop the person from doing another ad under another email," he said.

Tracey Hoff, broker and owner of The Real Estate Co. in Dickinson, said he has had his properties used on Craigslist at least six times in the past year.

He said that in a company meeting this week, it was discussed how one of their properties popped up on Craigslist recently claiming to be for rent at $800. The listing was priced much cheaper than even some apartments in the area, he said, which prompted inquiries.

"They make it look too good to be true," he said. "They do prey on the people that are coming to the area and maybe don't have a contact on the ground, or somebody that is in a high lease that thinks that they can save half of their money, and ultimately they just lose their money."

Hoff said in one of the latest situations, the scammer asked for half of the deposit up front with the promise to send the keys after payment.

"I think for the public; if it looks too good to be true, don't send the money," he said.

Hoff said it is frustrating for him because real estate companies work for the public and, in these situations, there isn't much they can do after someone has sent the money to the scammer.

He advises interested renters reach out to an agent when they see an online post about real estate.

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"It's always good to talk to somebody that is in the business you know for that support and that voice of reasoning," Hoff said.

Dukart advises people to view properties listed in person and make sure they are actually for rent and check the phone number on the posted sign to see if it's the same as the phone number in the ad.

DeHaan echoed Hoff, saying renters should deal with credible people when money is involved.

"Consumers should be aware that it is probably best to deal with either a property manager or a licensed Realtor, because then they know they are dealing with somebody that is credible," she said.

Craigslist advises people to avoid scams by not extending payment to strangers, wiring funds, giving out personal information on background checks or renting sight-unseen.

Wilkie said it's best simply to stay away from transactions on Craigslist and other online sources.

"I wouldn't do anything online because that is too easy to manipulate," he said.

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(Photo Courtesy of Watford City Real Estate Group) A Craigslist scam in which cheap rentals are posted and people are asked to send money in exchange for the keys to the house has been hitting the Bakken in the past year.

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