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Great Falls

Jan 9, 2011 8:08 PM by Alex Grubb (Great Falls)

Craigslist scammers targeting renters in Great Falls

Every morning, along with checking the news and the weather, Doug Maas logs on to Craigslist.

"I check it out non-stop, because I want to see, I want to know if it's one of our rentals that's popping up there, if it's one that we have listed for sale. Or, if it's another colleague's that has theirs listed for sale," said Maas, a realtor in Great Falls.

Doug combs the listings, looking for fake rental postings. One listing we found had pictures and information taken from the Maas Property Management Web site which were re-posted by someone else.

We sent an email replying to the ad to see what would happen. Someone wrote back saying they had just been sent overseas on a mission trip and asked us to fill out a rental application. They also told us the only way to see the property was to head over and look in the windows.

"My concern is somebody peeking in the windows of a property that's occupied. And possibly going and trying the door, which people will do. It could turn into a really bad situation really fast," Doug said.

We did go to the house from the ad but, instead of looking in the windows, met Doug's wife Kris there.

"It causes more problems I think for the tenants trying to rent the property, because they're sending deposits to someone who doesn't own or manage the property and can't give them keys or possession of the property. For us, it's more of an inconvenience because we're getting the calls and emails," Kris said.

To prevent all this from happening, Doug set up a Scam Team among his colleagues. If he sees a fake post, he'll send an email out asking everyone to flag the posting.

"If they each do it from home or on their smart phone, or at work, that's enough tags that they'll go away. And typically we've been getting rid of them within an hour or two," Doug said.

Although they're doing everything they can, they have some advice for those looking for a place to rent.

"If there's no contact information in the listing, there's probably a 99.9 percent chance it's not legit, that somebody is scamming you."

Doug told us he has filed a police report but Great Falls police said they can't do anything until someone actually gets hurt.

We also contacted the Better Business Bureau and they gave us these tips:

  • Know the market you're looking in and what the average prices are.
  • If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Never wire money, because once it's gone, it's gone.
  • Realtors and property management companies are also required to provide their name and phone number in a listing.
  • If you have any questions, most Realtors and property managers can tell you whether the property is actually for rent and who's in charge of it.
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