HPD warns renters about Craigslist scam

 UPDATED 7:06 PM HST Aug 08, 2012
Rental Scam Home
Hawaii Kai, Hawaii -

Roger Wong, 35,  was pleased when his real estate agent placed pictures of his Hawaii Kai home on the internet, but his joy quickly turned to disbelief when a friend found his home for rent on Craigslist.

"I feel like I had to do something," said Wong. "At least let it be known that these are out there, and there's a lot of people getting scammed right now."

Lt. John McCarthy of the Honolulu Police Department's Financial Crimes Detail said his office receives an average of two to three calls per week concerning rental scams, and in the past several weeks those numbers have been growing.

In Wong's case, scammers used pictures from his real estate listing, as well as the exact words used by his real estate agent to describe the three-bedroom, two-bath home on Naohe Street.

"Literally, the first or second day on the market, we found out that it was on Craigslist for rent," said Michelle Nouchi Ogata, of Prudential Advantage Realty.

Adding insult to injury, Wong said the person offering his home for rent used an email address with his name.

"I mean, what's worse than someone using your name and creating an email account with your name," said Wong. "I wouldn't even have known if my friend didn't tell me about it."

McCarthy said renters should beware of prices that seem too good to be true. The fraudulent ad highlighting Wong's home asked for $2,000 per month.

"I'm not a property manager, but it seems like a home this size in Hawaii Kai would probably rent closer to the $3,000 range," said Nouchi Ogata. "Anytime you see something that seems a little bit I guess fishy, it probably is."

According to McCarthy, many of the rental scams found on Craigslist originate outside the U.S., and the use of improper grammar is easy to spot.

"They claim to sometimes be professionals, but yet their grammar is that of a third-grader," said McCarthy.

Other signs that a rental ad may be a scam include:

- Photos that don't match the home's description
- A landlord who can't answer basic questions about the neighborhood
- And a phone number outside of the state where the home is located

In Wong's case, the number listed on the fake ad originated from Southern California, but was linked to the Web-based phone service Skype.

"With that Skype number you can call from anywhere in the world and pretend to be in Southern Cal," said McCarthy.

Scammers will usually try to steal money from potential renters by asking for a deposit and last month's rent via Western Union or MoneyGram. However, McCarthy warns that some of the thieves are not after cash, but rather personal information provided on a rental contract.

"Once they've got your personal information, you're the victim of an identity theft," said McCarthy.

Craigslist has an advice page on how to avoid a variety of scams found on its websites. You can locate the tips by clicking here.

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