New scam targets Internet home rentals

October 1, 2009 7:16:37 PM PDT
If you post items for sale or rent on the Internet, you could be the next target in a fake check scam.

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The scam is old but the victims are new. One Bay Area couple was hit twice in one week when they posted their vacation home for rent online.

Jerry and Maryanne Kreeger get emails like this all the time: a doctor in England wants to rent their home in the Hamptons, after he'd seen their ad on Craigslist.

"My name is James Mark, I would like to know if my wife and I can spend three nights at your place," said Jerry Kreeger.

"We rent the house a lot so it seemed perfectly legitimate," said Maryanne Kreeger. "The British love to come to the Hamptons."

The doctor said he'd send his $1,250 rental payment right away and the package was sent by UPS, next-day air.

The Kreegers found a check for $6,500 -- five times more than the actual rental fee. The person said that was a mistake. so Jerry should deposit the check, deduct his rental fee then and wire back the extra $5,250.

"Now right away I was suspicious," said Jerry Kreeger.

"We didnt' think anything of it until this check thing came up," said Maryanne Kreeger.

The person gave strict instructions: wire the money by Western Union to his agent in Illinois.

But the Kreegers saw a big red flag.

"You don't send money to somebody you don't know. It's crazy," said Maryanne Kreeger.

"I immediately went down to my bank, talked to a woman there who said ? scam," said Jerry Kreeger.

Turns out, the check was phony and so was the doctor. The whole thing was an attempt to get the Kreegers to wire money to a scammer and thankfully they didn't.

But no sooner did they dodge one bullet, another one came their way.

"It's from England again, from London, from George Walker," said Jerry Kreeger.

This person said he wanted to rent the Kreegers' condo in Mexico. Again, this seemed legit, until another UPS truck came and delivered the rental payment. Jerry was having déjà vu.

"He said wow, here comes another scam," said Maryanne Kreeger.

This envelope also contained a check for $6,500 and again, way more than the rental fee. Again, the Kreegers were told to wire money back.

Twice in one week? That's when they called 7 On Your Side.

We tracked the two envelopes and they were shipped one day apart. One was from Illinois, while the other came from Alabama.

"Scam artists do keep in contact with each other and they have lists that they pass around so it could be they are working together," said Postal inspector Kristine Kearney.

Kearney told 7 On Your Side this is an old scam and people who rent vacation homes over the Internet are a new target. They are vulnerable because they usually never meet the renters in person.

"Scammers like to use the veil of secrecy, which is the Internet and that you don't really ever know who they are you don't know who you are dealing with," said Kearney.

Jerry and Maryanne never wired any money, but because of the scam, they gave up a legitimate rental and that cost them $1,250.

"My wife and I wrote a note to Dr. James Mark so-called Doctor James Mark in London, and said 'you should be ashamed of yourself,'" said Jerry Kreeger.

This scam is the reverse of one I reported on a while back. Then a scammer put phony vacation rentals online, took the money sent to him and ran.

Related link:
FakeChecks.org

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