Craigslist rental scam asks victim to pay for background check

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A rental scammer in Hillsborough County may have cheated 14 people out of their money, but authorities say the victims are likely unaware.

A man recently posted on Craigslist bragging that he was able to get away with $1,400 by pretending to list a house online, then convince applicants they did not pass a background check after paying money to be screened. The ad read:

"I put an ad on Craigslist that I was renting my house for real cheap, I charged 14 people a $100 'background check' I just have to call them all back and tell them "NO." *BOOM* $1,400 in one week. Moral of the story people, if it seems too good to be true on Craigslist, it probably is......"

Authorities with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office are trying to find the victims referenced in the listing.

"We don't have any reported victims yet. Perhaps they are not even aware that they were victims," said spokesperson Larry McKinnon. "We'd like to get out in front of this and make sure people are aware of this type of scam."

The problem has spread to Pinellas County as well. Kris Knutson, a business development manager with Rent It Network, said a client who listed his home in Clearwater, but is currently living in the home, had "applicants" show up to the house last week.

"He had three persons come to his front door giving him actual applications for the property and saying that they've been approved, with moving trucks, wanting to move into their property," said Knutson.

Knutson said typically if a listing price seems too good to be true, it like is not real. She gave advice on red flags all potential renters should look for while exploring online listings.

"If you don't have an opportunity to walk through the home prior to placing an application or being requested for a security deposit, it's a big red flag," said Knutson.

Many professionals, like the Rent It Network, take security deposits at the end of the application process through a secure website, but if renters must pay via mail, Knutson said a cashier's check or money order is safer.

"If you're asked to give a security deposit by Western Union, MoneyGram, or a Prepaid Visa card, that's definitely a red flag."

Anyone who believes they may have been a victim of the phony Craigslist rental ad should contact the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.