“It’s heartbreaking to have to be the one to tell them they’ve been scammed”

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“Dear PoPville,

Wanted to solicit advice on this situation, which has now occurred three times in three weeks. It seems our place has been listed on craigslist as a vacation rental. Three times now, there is a random ring on our doorbell, and we open the door to find families that are expecting to stay at our address for a week’s vacation. They explain that they have already paid money via wire transfer from their bank accounts. Two of the families were from St. Augustine, FL, and had driven the whole way. They showed us an official looking lease arrangement with our address shown. It’s heartbreaking to have to be the one to tell them they’ve been scammed- not to discount how the families must feel, of course.

I called the police, but they said that I was not being scammed, so I had nothing to report; that the families would have to report the crime. But this is bothersome. We emailed craigslist to report the scam, but who knows if that will work. I’ve become somewhat on edge, fearing that in the middle of the day, on any day, I may have to go break more bad news to people at my door. And what if they become angry? I don’t know what recourse we have. Apparently, this is a common scam. Has anyone else experienced this?”

28 Comment

  • Don’t necessarily go straight to the news, but I’m sure NBC Washington had a story on this (non-local) a few weeks ago before Memorial Day. I wonder if you called them if they’d do an update or know of any procedures for you to take while this is happening to you….

  • Could you post on CL about the scam in a way that it would come up in the search results for those who would be seeing the ad? Contact CL?

  • SilverSpringGal

    People should know not to wire money for a rental. I had someone ask me to do that for a dupont rental because the owner was out of town. No.

    Maybe post a sign in your lawn/door as fair warnings to vacationers coming up to your property and make sure all pictures of your place are not live on places like RedFin or Zillow. You’d be surprised how many homeowners leave it up.

    • Andie302

      To add to this – the way that you get photos of your home taken off of the internet is going through the MRIS – they share everything they have with the third party website. Talk to either your buyer-agent, or if you know who the listing agent was, that’s even more directly effective. They may have pulled photos of your place off of the internet, and that way when someone does a cross search they see the same photos and it seems consistent. I had this happen to a place to a beach house I was staying in. Two groups showed up for 4th of July and only one had a legitimate reservation. Someone had downloaded the listing photos and scammed the second group.

    • but if someone is willing to execute this scam, do you think it really matters if the interior are YOUR photos? They can just find ANY interior photos of some nice looking place and put it together. I’m not sure that removing your photos actually helps at all.

      • +1. The only thing it might help with is making sure any angry person wouldn’t know your floorplan if they came barging in.

  • This happened to a friend of mine’s brother; he lives in a very nice home in a very nice neighborhood in Miami, and his place has been continually falsely rented out on AirBnB and the like – same story, people show up with their bags, and he has to send them packing. He eventually had to put up a webpage with the address of the place that said, I do not rent out my home, you are being scammed, beware. The police also worked with him, but that wasn’t here, and was in a very rich area, so maybe MPD has other things to worry about. Good luck!

    • Is it possible to do this scam through AirBnB?

      • I know renting directly through websites can add additional costs (i.e. when I booked somewhere overseas through HomeAway, it cost more to pay the fee than it did for 1 night to stay). However, you can still usually find reviews of places that are legit. Usually anyone legit will be posting on at least one legit website and quite frankly, if they aren’t – it’s probably not worth the risk. Now, just because they are posted on a legit website, doesn’t mean it’s real – but you can usually figure it out in 2016. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of suckers.

      • Accountering

        This scam would be impossible on AirBNB. AirBNB doesn’t pay out to the host until the day after check-in. Presumably, you would go to check-in, be turned away, and instantly call AirBNB. AirBNB would then work with them to either would refund your money, or find you alternate accommodations. AirBNB would then not pay the scammer, and be able to go after the scammer (as they have their DL, credit cards, etc.)
        .
        TL:DR This scam would not work at all on AirBNB, and the “scammed” would either be refunded, or have similar accommodations procured for them by AirBNB.

        • My friends were just victims of this exact same scam on AirBNB so it is most definitely possible. Feel free to contact me separately if you want more information, but I just shared this post with them and they may also post a reply.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Perhaps you are both right and the scammer is either dumb or just mean-spirited and out to f* with people, i.e., scammer achieved no financial gain, but would-be guest still ended up without a place to stay(?)

          • Alternatively people aren’t very smart and don’t bother contacting AirBnB to report it.

  • Set up an email or RSS alert with search terms for your address (or whatever recurring information is in the craigslist postings) and then flag the listings whenever you see them.

  • Andie302

    Is it worth reporting to the St. Augustine police? Since they may be some kind of online division that could look into the CL scam?

  • Whoa, that’s nuts. The FTC has some info here: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0079-rental-listing-scams. The DC Office of the Attorney General also might have an interest in this. Or maybe their counterparts in Florida? It seems like a Consumer Protection issue, maybe?

  • Is it commonplace anywhere else (other city, county, state) for police to say “it didn’t happen to you, so we can’t even file a report”? It seems like all that does is encourage people to overlook crime in their areas. I walked past a car with a broken back window that had clearly been broken into overnight. From posts here int he past, I knew if I’d contacted the police, they would have told me the same thing. So I didn’t call. At best this seems like a flawed protocol, but of course at worst it might be laziness/ineptitude.

    • Agreed. Very discouraging that MPD seems to be so eager to tell people they can’t help them.

      • It is such a shame police reacts like this but in the grand scheme of things, they consider this a petty crime. It’s the same with credit card identity theft–police won’t pursue it even when I had the information–name and address of the person who stole it. Some people know this and I feel like that’s why these things are not uncommon to see.

    • I have called the police several times for this and have been told that they will contact the owner (if it’s a DC tag and they can track it down). Who knows if it actually happens though.

      Once I did this by emailing the PSA sgt, and when I saw the window was still broken and uncovered several days later, I recontacted him. He said he checked with his officers and they couldn’t find the car! Dudes, I described the make/model/color of the car, its location on a specific block, its license plate number, and exactly which window was broken. I cc’d the district commander on the next email and wouldn’t you know it, they found the car and actually went to the owner’s house to notify him. It is frustrating to have to push people to do their jobs but if you get a lame excuse, at least make sure the person’s boss knows that his or her employees are giving lame excuses.

      also, I’m not sure if this will work but you could try to file a report online or through the telephone reporting unit. http://mpdc.dc.gov/service/file-police-report-online

    • “Is it commonplace anywhere else (other city, county, state) for police to say “it didn’t happen to you, so we can’t even file a report”?”

      Yes. I work for an international company, and in the US, our name is often implicated in a scam, where people are presented a check from us, and then told to wire part of it to a foreign address, keeping the balance. The check is NOT from us, and the check bounces. The victim then contacts us, wanting their money back.

      In these cases, we can’t effectively report it. In all police jurisdictions in the US that I’ve dealt with, as well as the FTC, they want the person who was scammed to report it.

  • How horrible OP. This must be scary to have strangers show up and then have to break such bad news to them. I would report to St Augustine PD for sure.

  • This could be identity theft and internet fraud. Google DOJ report fraud for a list of recommended steps such as contacting the Federal Trade Commission and the Internet Crime Complaint Center. Best of luck

  • It is heartbreaking, but anyone these days ought to know about CL scams, and especially about never wiring money. Since I have a vacation rental – I keep a very detailed scam warning on CL all the time. But there are so many postings that it quickly slips out of sight.

    On a practical level, I hate to see people get stuck like this. If any more wayward vacation renters show up at your door, I would always be happy to help them find another place to stay. I know how to use the search features and can sort through the listings quicker than someone unfamiliar with DC.

    http://washingtondc.craigslist.org/doc/vac/5621228066.html

  • Wow, I’ve seen this happen before. I work at the front desk of a property in Cathedral Heights and on one Sunday, this young guy comes in with his suitcase and comes to the desk asking for his keys to pick up. I ask for his name and for which apartment. As I’m about to look him up in the directory he says an apartment number that doesn’t exist. I tell him that there isn’t an apartment by that number and that he has the wrong building as, that tends to happen surprisingly pretty often. I ask him where is he supposed to move in, and he tells me an address that sound familiar but very off. It’s on the adjacent street, but the number doesn’t sound right. Sure enough I looked it up online and the street address doesn’t exist. Sad thing is the kid came to study at AU all the way from Mexico and had classes the next day. Told him to go to the 2nd district to report it. I asked him if he paid for the “apartment” already and well, he did. Don’t know what happened to him afterwards. Pretty sad to hear this is a regular thing.

    • I work at a university and had an international student asking me questions about housing, luckily he asked me before wiring some money to someone out of town who ‘wasn’t available to show the apartment.’ People aren’t familiar with Craigslist here and it is dangerous. I imagine they sadly catch a lot of people.

    • Poor kid — what a way to start your stay in a foreign country. 🙁

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