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New twist on old scam dupes would-be renters in Beachwood

Posted at 5:46 PM, May 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-08 17:46:19-04

A common real estate scam with a brazen twist ensnared a Beachwood homeowner and a rental home seeker while the scam artist made off with hundreds of dollars. 

Beachwood police were dispatched to the homeowner's residence around 11 p.m. after the homeowner's family saw people coming in and out of the house, which was listed for sale. By that point, the scam was already set in motion. According to a police report, the unknown scammer used a Beachwood resident's identity and rented out the home to an unsuspecting party.

“I thought it was the new neighbors moving in because we knew the house was for sale,” neighbor Morris Burke said. "I didn’t think too much of it until I saw your [news crew] today. It’s crazy.”

The scammer or scammers reportedly broke open the lockbox to the home, removed the key that was inside and mailed it to the unsuspecting victims. In return, the victims mailed the scammer money to cover the deposit. The lack of face-to-face contact should have been an immediate red flag, according to Ericka Dillworth, the operations director at the Cleveland Better Business Bureau.

One quick look at the BBB’s Scam Tracker website shows real estate scams spread across the entire country and are especially concentrated in places like New York and California. However, anyone in any city can fall victim to these scams.

“People want to believe that, yes, they can get this [cheaper] than some other arrangement,” Dillworth said. “I think they want to believe and so they trust or they take the chance that indeed they are going to be able to get this rented property for $800 instead of $1200.”

This Beachwood case had the class hallmarks of any real estate scam: there was no face-to-face contact, communication was limited to Craigslist and email, and cash was involved.

“You should never give cash up front. You should make sure there is a lease to be signed. You should make sure you have physically seen the property and been inside the property,” Dillworth said. “You should, if possible, pay by credit card. There are some protections for you if you pay by credit card.”

The real estate agent in charge of the listing used in the scam said she personally contacted Craigslist to have the listing removed prior to Monday night. She encouraged others to do the same, she said.

Police do not have a suspect.