Not only am I an Investigative Reporter but I am also a licensed Realtor in the state of Florida. Last month I listed a beautiful rental home in Belle Meade which is in Miami's chic and trendy 'Upper East Side'. I posted the home on the multiple listing service (MLS) and also posted it on Craig's List. Belle Meade is one of the most upscale gated communities in the area and homes are not at all cheap. The home I listed had 3 beds, 2 baths and a separate living and family room, amazing landscaping, everything updated with high-end upgrades. Bottom line: it was very nice, as you can see.
We were asking $2900 per month, which is reasonable for that home in that area. About a week later I was in a short meeting and when I came out I checked my voicemail to find a dozen messages from potential tenants who all seemed extremely interested in the home. Such a quick and overwhelming response is very unusual. I figured either the market had suddenly shot up faster than a dope-sick heroin addict or I was just very lucky. I returned the first call and spoke with a minister from out of state who was relocating his family to Miami. He said he had seen the home advertised on Craig's List.
The minister happily stated, "The home has everything I ever wanted; a great location, perfect condition, and of course the price! I just can't believe it's only $900 per month!"
I realized he was obviously mistaken so I quickly interrupted him, "I'm sorry sir but the price is not $900 it's $2900 per month."
"Not according to Craig's List" he stated adamantly.
I assured him the home was indeed $2900 and I then logged onto Craig's List. My original ad was there but there was also another one that looked exactly the same but the price was only $900 per month. The person who posted it obviously copy and pasted my description and photos and posted a similar ad. The fake ad stated that anyone who was interested had to contact Mike Mason by email. Whoever wrote this ad even made it look like tenants were dealing directly with me, the true listing agent. These scammers slyly designed an email address which contained my first initial and my last name;firstname.lastname@example.org however, my real email address is Mike@MikeMason.Biz .
The only reason the minister was able to contact me is because he also 'Googled' the address of the home and was linked directly to my website. All of the other prospective tenants who contacted me did the same - otherwise they would have dealt directly with the Nigerians.
I wonder how many others didn't think to Google the home's address and only spoke with the bogus broker. I later heard from some of those people and this is what they said:
The broker responded quickly by emailing them a rental application which looked like it could have been written by a 5 year old - complete with misspelled words and horrible grammar. After the tenants filled it out they were told to mail it to the broker along with a $900 retainer fee (which was the first month's rent). The broker said once he received the money he would mail the keys to the tenant. And guess where the tenant was told to mail the check? Nigeria. That should be a huge red flag! There are innumerable reports about scams originating in Nigeria...I guess this is one of their latest.
I would venture to say that most people would never fall for this but it seems there are some who do. People who are not 'computer savvy' may think that everything on Craig's List is legitimate. In fact, anyone can essentially post anything they want to since the site is so loosely monitored. I know that when renters and homebuyers see an amazing deal like this they get excited and emotional and just want to jump on it before someone else does.
I contacted NBC-6 here in Miami and they did a consumer report warning people about this scam. The real estate market doesn't need any more bad press - the market has already been beaten up enough. Hopefully people out there will remember the old saying "if it looks too good to be true it probably is."
Realtor and Investigative Reporter Mike Mason