Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre is advising citizens to be suspicious when responding to advertisements on websites such as Craigslist or similar online classified websites regarding apartment and home rentals, as well as the sale of real estate or vehicles. Scammers are using these types of ads to collect money from victims and then never deliver what was promised in the advertisement.
In the last two weeks, two houses for sale in Lafourche Parish were allegedly used in rental scams. In these types of scams, the scammer obtains information and photographs of houses for sale from legitimate real estate websites and uses the information to create a false rental ad.
“Just like with other scams, these rental ad may include a fantastic monthly rate or some other bargain that seems hard to pass up,” said Sheriff Webre. “As with any other potential scam, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I am glad to see these are being reported to us already, and hopefully, by getting the word out, others can avoid becoming a victim.”
According to the FBI, these types of scams are nothing new and have been around since the early 1980s. They are simply a variation on an old scam sometimes referred to as a “419 scheme” – named after the Nigerian penal code section under which these crimes are prosecuted. Often, the scammer uses Nigerian contact information and, pretending to be the owner, states he is overseas because of missionary or contract work. Often, the scammer uses a broker’s real name to create a fake email, which gives the fraud more legitimacy.
In a similar scam, vehicles or other high-priced items are offered for sale in an online classified advertisement. When the victim attempts to pay for the item, the seller requires the victim to obtain one or more pre-paid debit cards, such as the Green Dot MoneyPak cards, and asks the victim to send the card numbers. After sending the numbers, the victim never hears from the seller again. In the past week, a Lafourche Parish man was scammed out of thousands of dollars after he purchased several Green Dot MoneyPak cards and sent the numbers to someone advertising a boat for sale on the Craigslist website, only to find out later he had been scammed.
“Websites such as Craigslist do have their share of scams, but they also have legitimate ads,” said Sheriff Webre. “The bottom line is you must protect yourself and be cautious anytime you conduct business online.”
Before conducting any business, especially over the internet, citizens should always try to verify the seller or company is legitimate. Here are a few tips to avoid becoming a victim of these types of scams:
- Only deal with local landlords or renters.
- Always try to inspect a rental property before agreeing to rent.
- Be wary of ads where the sale or rental price is far below market value, and always question why the price is so low.
- Be suspicious if you are asked to only use a wire transfer service or to obtain a pre-paid debit card.
- Beware of emails containing several misspelled words or written in poor or broken English.
- If there are photos of the property, ensure the description matches the photos.
- NEVER give out personal information like your Social Security, bank account, or credit card numbers.
If you suspect a scam, or have already been victimized, please report it to the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office at (985) 532-2255.