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Online scam targets renters in St. Croix County

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Online scam targets renters in St. Croix County
New Richmond Wisconsin 127 South Knowles Avenue 54017

Employees of WESTconsin Realty alerted local newspapers to a scam that plucks home-sale ads from the free site, www.craigslist.org, and presents them as a (fake) rental.

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River Falls resident Dalene Crandall works for WESTconsin in Hudson. Her associate, Mike Giese, works for the company in New Richmond.

He learned about the bogus listing after a woman responded to the scammer's ad for a three-bedroom home for rent in New Richmond.

Rent was $700, and the security deposit was $400. She became suspicious and contacted Giese using one of his information sheets at the property.

The two WESTconsin colleagues found that they didn't have much recourse in addressing the scam, either.

"When I called the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, it was their suggestion that we contact craigslist to have it flagged," said Crandall about the ad. "Other than that they did not have much to tell me."

Giese said, "I flagged the ad a couple of times. The ad disappeared, but I'm not sure if it was because I flagged it or the person that placed the ad removed it."

River Falls police officer John Wilson, who investigates scams, said he's not heard of this particular one but it's not surprising.

Wilson said it's pretty much impossible to keep up with all of the scams, particularly the scams originating in foreign countries. He says people should be cautious, use common sense and beware that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

A setup

The rental scam from www.craigslist.org said in part (typos and incorrect grammar and spelling intentionally left in):

"Greetings to you in the name of the Lord, I am here to tell you that if you are willing to rent the house, then it will be the best house you have ever lived in, because i am no more living in the house anymore. Due to my work as a Evangelist, I traveled on a mission to west Africa for a programmed called the Go West Africa Programmed, which you can visit on www.gowest africa.org. And I have decided to relocate to Hawaii as soon as I am back.

"So I need someone very honest and kind to rent my home -- I will love you to go and view the home asap. I am sorry Iam not there and I have the keys with me here in West Africa.... So I would want you to really bear with me.

"Don't be surprised when you get to the home and see a for sale sign -- I had the intention of selling the home but I thought about it again and decided to rent out the home. So I will want you not to bother yourself about any sign you see in the home saying it is for sale... and I don't want you to contact them because I am now renting out my house and don't have anything with them anymore. If you are willing to see the inside, then you can peek through the windows -- Get back to me as soon as you have viewed the house so I can email you the rental application -- God bless your Heart."

Giese said he thinks it's a good policy to avoid sending any money to a foreign country. It also doesn't hurt to call the listing agent to verify a rental's legitimacy.

Wilson agreed: "To me, anything that wants people to send money overseas, is suspect," adding that he feels mostly the same about out-of-state deals.

Another recent con game circulating locally is worth a mention in the context of scams: The cheaters gain access to a person's e-mail account, in one case by posing as the e-mail administrators and asking for their password, then they send a desperate-sounding message to everyone in the victim's address list.

In at least two instances, it has said something like, "Help, I'm out of the country, had my wallet stolen and need you to wire-transfer me $2,500."

Most who received the message(s) said they seemed suspicious because it didn't sound like that person and/or because they knew the person was not and had not been out of the country.

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