MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- It is a popular way to find a place to live. On Craigslist, you can find the perfect fit for just about anything.
Courtney Harvey and Elyssa Kitzmiller did, too. They found their home at 133 Elm in Mooresville.
“It’s a good deal, so we decided to try to get it,” Kitzmiller said.
Courtney and Elyssa talked to the rental agent several times in emails and were thrilled about the deal they were getting—a two-bedroom house for $600 a month and utilities were included.
“He requested we wire him the first month’s rent and the deposit of $400,” she added.
Elyssa and Courtney jumped at the deal and were told to wire the money to the Walmart in Valdosta, Georgia, even though the homeowner said he lived in Florida.
Everything about this deal seemed great—only problem was 133 Elm belongs to Robert Maxey, who actually lives in Mooresville. It turns out his listing and photos were hijacked and listed for a lower price with an out-of-state contact. Robert says he didn’t even know and that he feels bad.
The home was for sale and for rent, just not for $600 with utilities included. Cathy Lynch is the real estate agent for this home and says her listings have been hijacked before on Craigslist. Lynch too feels bad for this couple.
“But my advice is don’t rent homes from Craigslist. I would call a real estate professional,” Lynch said.
NBC Charlotte took the number and called to try to get this imposter on the phone. We got a voicemail and a call back within hours saying he’d give us the keys to see the house after we wired him rent and a deposit.
When I told him I was a TV reporter and had questions about what I think is a fraud, he hung up. The number we called has an 813 area code, which is Tampa, Florida, so we enlisted the help of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Tampa to track the number and see if it’s connected to an address down there, but it’s not.
Deputies say they followed the lead and eventually learned the number was spoofed. The number exists, but it isn’t in Tampa, nor is the con artist.
“It was just a lot of money. It’s not fun,” Kitzmiller said.
The good news is that Lynch found this young couple an affordable place to live. The bad news is this young couple is out $1,086 in rent, deposits and costs.
Experts who deal with fraud advise to deal with people face-to-face if you can or deal with a management company that oversees private rentals. Also be wary of anyone asking you to wire them money. It’s a good possibility they are out of the country, which means they are out of the reach of our United States Law Enforcement.
NBC Charlotte also took the con artist’s number listed in the Craigslist ad, 813-964-7239, and put it into Google. We found dozens of complaints linking the number to rental frauds in several different states. The email listed in the Craigslist ad was firstname.lastname@example.org.