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Craigslist rental scam hits county

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ELYRIA — At least one property in Elyria, and another in Lorain, were involved in recent Craigslist rental scams, according to real estate agents.

Nancy Hull, owner of Five Oaks Realty, said two of her company’s properties, one on Eastern Heights Boulevard in Elyria and another on Redhill Drive in Lorain were targeted in fake Craigslist rental adds, the information copied from the properties’ real sale listings on Realtor.com and fraudulently passed off as rentals.

Craigslist is a website providing local classified ads. It is often used to advertise apartments or properties for rent, jobs and items for sale.

The fraudulent listings included photos of the properties stolen from the real listings. The Elyria property — a three-bedroom, two-bathroom, 1,703-square-foot house with a detached garage, was listed in the fraudulent ad for $600 per month rent, utilities included, and a $600 security deposit.

“I’ve had two this month and never had any before,” Hull said of the scams. “I don’t want anyone taken advantage of and scammed, so I’d like to alert the public and caution them not to do business with people on Craigslist.”

Hull said after her agents were alerted, they called police, filing an incident report. They also contacted Craigslist to report the listings as scams. Since making the reports, the listing for the property in Lorain was removed from Craigslist, while the Elyria one is still active.

“Scams have grown overtime,” Hull said. “We’ve been made more and more aware of it just by things people have said. They have found their listing on Craigslist for rent, but I don’t know (of) any with my company … I guess we’ve been lucky.”

Real estate agent Carol Gallardo is the agent for the Elyria property. The Craigslist posting went up Friday morning, and since then she said she’s talked to more than 20 people regarding the property.

Some had contacted the Craigslist seller, whose phone number returns to a cellular carrier in Nigeria, and were told in an email to ignore the sign in the front yard.

Gallardo shared responses potential renters had received on the listing with The Chronicle-Telegram. In it, the man claims to be the real owner of the property, Steve Barr, and says he is away on a missions trip to West Africa. He asks potential tenants to share personal information, including a photo of their driver’s license and pictures of their family.

“It’s kind of scary for people thinking that they’re going to be able to rent something if they give personal information, and trust me a lot of people have given personal information,” Gallardo said.

“This guy is telling people he is the owner, using his name, and they can’t see the inside of the house until they give all this information … which could be used as identify theft and some people are doing it.”

Gallardo said the rise in scams like this could be because of how big a market Elyria has for rental properties, with families coming in from Lorain or Cuyahoga County. She said most people have driven past the property, saw her sign and called, but others may have wired money or given information to the man claiming to be the homeowner.

She said the house was listed for sale about two weeks ago, and said the scammers could be using recent real estate listings to create their fraudulent ads.

Hull and Gallardo both say if the listing sounds too good to be true, it probably is. They suggest driving by the house and contacting the Realtor listed on the sign in front of the property for more information. Hull also said while scammers may want money wired to them, Realtors will never ask for money until they are ready to write an offer, and will involve a title or mortgage company in the process.

“I just really cared about the public being notified of these scammers,” Hull said. “A security deposit might not seem like much but ($400 to $600), that’s a hell of a lot of money for people to lose.”

Contact Carissa Woytach at 440-329-7245 or cwoytach@chroniclet.com.
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