Today I reported a con artist to the police. It was your typical Craig’s List con, a guy offering a house to rent at a price that was too good to be true. But I figured what the heck? Never hurts to ask. So I contacted him.
He tells me the address, and gives me this story about how he and his family moved to another state and he’s not worried about the amount of rent as much as he wants a good tenant that he can trust who will take care of the place as if it were his or her own. Naturally the place is locked, but I can go by and look in the windows, and if I want to rent it, I can fill out this form that asks for a ton of personal information, send him 500 dollars, and he’ll mail me the keys. Yeah, right.
I went on line to the city property records and discovered that the house was owned by land trust, so the guy probably thought it was vacant. But out of curiosity, I drove by. Someone’s SUV was in the driveway. It’s occupied. The tenant most assuredly does not know that his address is being used as a scam, because that would just draw the police right to his door.
So I decided to play a little game with the guy. I wrote back to him, acting all excited. I told him that I drove by the house on my way to work. I didn’t get a chance to look in the windows, but just from the outside I could tell that it was a cute little place, and I loved the neighborhood. (And in point of fact, it was a cute place. I would have liked nothing better than to be able to rent it.) I told him I was definitely interested. One question, though. If I rented the place, would I be able to remove the tire swing? I’d hate to attract the neighborhood kids, and God forbid one of them got hurt. That would open us both up to liability.
He responded almost immediately by asking me to fill out his form again. I said I would, but he hadn’t answered my question about the tire swing. He responded again. “Yes, you can take down the tire swing.”
Busted. There is no tire swing, and the owner would know that. So I called the police and reported this. I figured it would be a slam dunk. We had his IP address and his cell phone number and the ad he placed for an address that we could easily prove not to be his own, but instead they told me there are millions of those scams out there, and there was really nothing they could do about it.
That’s the frustrating thing about cons. The cops have limited time and resources to pursue this stuff, so they tend to look the other way. They have bigger fish to fry, and the petty con artists know this. It makes me sick to think that somewhere, some little old lady is having 500 dollars of her social security check stolen from her even as you read this.
So I decided to mess with the guy one last time. I e-mailed him again and told him that I had just busted his scheming, con artist butt, and that the police would be contacting him directly. Within seconds, his add was pulled off Craig’s list. I cheered.
I know he’ll just create a new account and pull this same foolishness under another name in a different city, but for a brief, shining moment, that ad was down, so someone didn’t get conned. And he probably had to change his prepaid cell phone number. What a hassle. For a split second, the good guys won. And it felt really, really good.
Incidentally, NEVER respond to a Craig’s List rental ad if a) they don’t list the address right up front, b) the price and/or amenities seem way too good to be true, and c) the property manager is not local. The funds you save could be your own.
[image credit: lifehacker.com]