Craigslist renting scam surfaces in Royal Oak

There is a warning about an alleged online scammer and a crime of opportunity in a hot rental market.|

Some people show up at a house in Royal Oak hoping to move in, but the real owner says he didn't put it up for rent.

It starts with a Craigslist ad that's too good to be true. A home right in Royal Oak being put up as a steal for $900 a month leading people to jump all over it. But the person listing the house doesn't own it in the first place.

"We listed the house for sale on the 14th," said Jason Lewis. "We accepted an offer two days later and took it off."

Two days in a seller's market and a Royal Oak home was sold. Nothing to worry about - or least that's what Lewis thought.

Then came a knock at the door at 9:30 at night, a person inquiring about the house.

"He essentially said 'Hey can we rent this place?'" Lewis said. "I said 'Well it's not for rent, I don't understand what you are saying.' And they showed me the Craigslist ad."

In the ad, a man by the name of William Wolf claimed he's in Connecticut. and says he hoped to rent it "quick." He is asking $900 a month and $900 down as a deposit.

"The listing (or) the most concerning part, is basically (that it said to) come by, peek through the windows and walk on the property," Lewis said. "I literally caught someone out back walking around at night."

That was enough to get Lewis to call police.

"They said just keep your eyes out," he said. "Our neighbors have been real helpful keeping their eyes out for us."

He also called Craigslist who took down the ad, and the Federal Trade Commission, who opened an investigation. FOX 2 also tried calling Mr. Wolf, but got a message saying that the mobile user was not available with a prompt to leave a message.

Real estate agents like Tamela Ekstrom say this is a growing scam in the area.

"They will list something at a real good price, so it’s super-tempting," said Ekstrom, from Haven Real Estate and Design. "Then they will get people to give them a deposit because they need to get in on it right away."

Ekstrom says as a buyer you can take precautions.

"If someone is not going to meet you at the property, then that's a huge red flag,"

In fact if a real estate agent doesn't meet you for a showing, they can face fines of $5,000.

Lewis is hopeful no one actually paid $900 for just a peek inside his house.

"Now that it's out there, hopefully that can be spread to the local market and let people know this is going on don't be taken advantage of," he said.

Another tip passed on from the agent is that property ownership is an open record, meaning anyone in the public can look up the true owner of the property to make sure the person renting the house is actually is the person who owns it.

Lewis said incidents with people who saw the ad happened three times - but remember the posting was only online for two days showing how fast this scam works.