Craigslist Scam: Defrauding Renters

LYCOMING COUNTY -- A scam targeting would-be renters in one community uses the online site Craigslist to collect deposits from those looking to lease homes.

Newswatch 16 looked into how the scam works and why crooks are targeting the Williamsport Area.

This scam has hit Lackawanna, Luzerne, and Monroe counties in recent years.

Newswatch 16 talked with victims and real estate agents and found there were as many as five bogus listings on Craiglist in Williamsport as recently as last week.

One family lost their savings.

Angel Johnson lives with her husband, her two kids, and mother-in-law in a one bedroom mobile home near Towanda.

“I feel like I was robbed,” said Angel of Liberty Corners.

Robbed -- because her family lives here and not here at this two bedroom house in Williamsport.

Earlier this month, the Johnsons sold their home near Elmira, New York to take jobs in Lycoming County.

Angel went on Craigslist and found a home to rent for just $600. She said the deal was amazing. “I thought it was great.  The house was amazing.  I thought it was too good to be true.”

It was too good to be true.

The home’s real owner is selling not renting.

However, emails show scammers claimed they left for a job overseas.

To get the home, Angel wired two months’ rent and utility and security deposits, totaling 25-hundred dollars, “And it was just all a scam,” said Angel.

“Scammers are intelligent people, and they’ve seen an opportunity, and they’re trying to capitalize on that opportunity,” said Bill Hodrick, a realtor.

Williamsport realtor Bill Hodrick says the opportunity is a glut of homes for sale due to the downturn in the region’s natural gas industry, allowing scammers from out of state or out of the country to copy listings in Lycoming County to defraud would be renters.

Newswatch 16 asked: “What are the chances the victims will get their money back?”

“Zero.  It’s almost impossible to track that person down, that money’s gone,” said Hodrick.

Angel Johnson says she jumped at the seemingly good deal because she feared the house would be rented to someone else soon. She said, “You don’t find a nice home like that… in the neighborhood it was in. It was in a beautiful neighborhood.  You don’t find it for the price she had on it.”

Right now, that house has a pickup truck barricading the driveway, and Angel Johnson and her family live in cramped quarters, waiting to save enough money to rent a house closer to Williamsport.

“I’m done on Craigslist.  It’s face to face from now on.  That was a big mistake,” added Angel.

Realtor Bill Hodrick of Williamsport says Craigslist is an effective way to sell and rent properties, but to avoid being a victim of a scam, Hodrick says prospective renters should have contact with the owner, be able to get a tour inside the home, and have the keys handed over at the time of the deposit.


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