Renters Beware: Scam artists are targeting Colorado Springs right now trying to bilk people out of thousands of dollars through phony rental scams.
I know because it happened to me.
I put my house on the market Thursday and it’s already under contract. So, you can imagine my surprise when News 5 viewer Candi Rust reached out to me on Tuesday saying someone on Craigslist was trying to rent the house to her.
"I was kind of hoping it wasn’t you, like please don’t let it be the reporter because he’s going to think you’re a nut-job," Candi said.
I didn’t think she was a nut-job. In fact, I was relieved she cared enough to let me know what was happening.
This scam is like catfishing for real estate. Instead of posting fake profile pictures to meet a date online, criminals scrape real estate websites for photos and property information to create fake rental advertisements. More often than not, they’ll ask renters to wire them a deposit and first months rent.
The scammer even copied my name from County Assessor records and told the public victims that he was the REV KOEN ANDREW J, a missionary in Poland. He also said to ignore the for sale sign in our yard, explaining that I was upset with the realtor’s fees and wanted to rent instead to a "God-fearing person that can take very good care of the house."
Candi didn’t fall for it.
"I look it up and this person English isn’t perfect and then their story isn’t adding up," she said. "First they’re in Poland, then they’re here in the United States."
This was the second phony ad she came across last week, which is frustrating because she’s been searching for weeks to find a new place to live.
"Everything is so expensive, or rents out so fast, or there’s like 500 applicants who’ve already applied," she said.
Leaders with the Pikes Peak Association of Realtors told me this rental scam is especially bad right now because of the hot housing market.
"It’ll come and go in spurts, but we see in typically very hot markets, and typically in the summertime," explained board president Debbie Howes.
Amy Reid, CEO for the PPAR, said real estate agents can use computer programs that scour the web looking for fraudulent ads to try and prevent these scams.
"To track their listings and get notifications of where their listings are popping up so they can catch it hopefully before someone falls trap to the scam," Reid said.
Additionally, she explained that all of the photos from listings on the Pikes Peak Multiple Listing Service are given a watermark. That security feature gives the association greater leverage to encourage big websites like Facebook and Craigslist to remove fraudulent posts over suspected copyright violations.
Lt. Howard Black, Public Information Officer for the Colorado Springs Police Department, said they receive about 2-3 of reports of scams like this each month. He’s encouraging renters and property owners who think they may have been targeted to file a police report.
"We want our detectives to be able to take a look at it," he said. "If it’s happening to one person, it’s probably happening to many individuals."