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Rental fraud is all too prevalent

Some scams are old news, yet people continue to fall for them. My daughter-in-law had recently been scouring Craigslist in search of an affordable rental home.

Somewhat naive in matters of finance, I try to look over her shoulder when she comes across a “terrific deal.” This weekend I had to be in Texas, so she was on her own for three days — and didn’t want to bother me with a phone call.

There it was — the perfect home. A four bedroom, 2,600 square footer, in a great neighborhood. There was a nearby park, highly rated schools, a community pool, shopping — everything.

There were pictures galore, fantastic pictures of a light airy home and a great backyard with a swing set and a built-in barbecue.

The best thing, though? The monthly rental was a very affordable, $800. The deal of a lifetime, right?

She grabbed the phone and called the listed number. The gentleman who answered had a crisp British accent and identified himself as Arthur.

He told her that the owners were his friends, missionaries who had been called to Africa in light of the recent health crisis. They’d be gone at least a year, he said, and wanted someone living IN the house. As the first caller, she could be the lucky tenant.

He gave her the information necessary for her to send a deposit of $500, via Western Union, to the homeowners in Africa. “As soon as they notify me that it has been received,” I will deliver the keys to you and we can sign a year’s lease.” She got the money and raced to Walmart.

Sometimes the cosmos lines up in the best possible way. On my way home from the airport, just yesterday, I stopped at that same Walmart to pick up a few items.

And there were Sharon and the kids — in line to part with $500 in cash, fast, so they could lock in this deal-of-a-century dream home. She’d printed out the pictures of her almost-new-residence and said “LOOK at the pictures of our new house!”

She was next in line to be served, until I pulled her out of line and broke her heart at the same time I saved her $500.

If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Plain and simple. There are no missionaries in Africa who want YOU to rent their gorgeous home for a mere $800 a month.

There are, however, scam artists who use sites like Craigslist and throw-away cell phones to steal $500 from 20 or 30 hopeful callers before somebody flags the ad as fraud.

They cut/paste the photos of a home that was legitimately on the market and twist the ad to suit their own criminal purposes.

I’ll end this as I do so often: “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.” (Thank you Robert Heinlein.)

Drop by the Pahrump Valley Times offices, 2160 E. Calvada Blvd., for a copy of Leslie Kim’s latest book “123 Main Street … the Scamming of America.” Only $19.95 while supplies last.

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