Fayette County

Craigslist real estate scam exposed

A real estate scam originating on the classified-advertising Web site craigslist.org appears to have confused more than a dozen Lexington-area people interested in renting a home. Information from a legitimate entry about a home for sale apparently was hijacked by a scam artist who listed the property for rent and asked those interested to send a deposit because he was out of the country.

Keller Williams real estate agent Kim Soper, who posted the listing for the sale, began receiving calls about 9 a.m. Sunday from people who had seen the doctored craigslist posting, had driven by the property and had seen her number on a sign in the yard.

By Monday afternoon, she had received 16 calls.

"Real estate's hopping, huh?" she said, laughing, on Tuesday.

The hijacker had used the same photos and information but stripped off Soper's contact info and included only an e-mail address.

Those who e-mailed, Soper was told, would receive a reply that the person was traveling abroad in West Africa to bid on land and, in his absence, hopeful renters should send a deposit, and "they would simply mail them the keys to the property."

She said she doesn't know of anyone who sent money.

"I've been constantly reporting (the post) as spam, and I'm just hoping it's gone," she said.

And those who liked the home are out of luck. She sold it a week before she began receiving the calls.

Soper said she had heard of similar scams a few months ago in New York and Florida, and some other real estate agents at Keller Williams have received calls about similar scams.

Heather Clary of the Better Business Bureau of Central & Eastern Kentucky said the scam has been around for some time.

"The sites are just playgrounds for this because people are posting things. You do have to be careful with who you're dealing with," she said.

Clary encouraged people who are suspicious of rental offers to check their local property valuation administrator's Web site to find the homeowners' names and contact them directly.