Thursday May 07 2009
Luxury Auburn home used as Craigslist scam bait
By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
International fraud scheme draws renters to baffled couple’s doorstep EXTRA: Scam precautions
When Auburn’s Bruce and Gretchen Harshman put their upscale North Auburn house on the market three weeks ago, the last thing they were expecting was to have it turn up as bait in an international Craigslist scam. Over the past week, people have cruised by their house and some have even stopped to knock on their door to inquire about the too-good-to-be-true $1,000-a-month rent they think the 2,900-square-foot home off Dry Creek Road is going for. Gretchen Harshman said they’re also surprised to see someone living there. The Craigslist posting is from a Rev. Ken Gregg, who describes himself as a missionary who has been transferred from Auburn to work in Nigeria for four years and needs a God-fearing renter to take good care of it. If the prospective renter goes for the bait, they learn from the scammer that “Rev. Gregg” didn’t trust property management firms and took the keys with him to Africa. All that’s needed to get the keys and move in is a security deposit of $400. Oh, and pets and cats are OK. Harshman said she’s talked to people who have rang her doorbell about renting the house. She’s gone out onto the street to explain to people who have stopped that the house, which includes a 500-square-foot guesthouse, pool and spa on 2½ acres, is not for rent for $1,000. It’s not for rent at any price, Harshman said. The home is for sale and currently listed at $799,000. “I explain it to people and they don’t seem to be angry,” Harshman said. “They’re confused and I don’t want them to send any money. For me though, it’s been an invasion of privacy and I don’t know when it’s going to end.” As best as Harshman can estimate, the Craigslist post from the bogus minister went on the Craigslist site Monday. It included the description and photo posted on the MLS Website used to market property legitimately over the Internet. Harshman found out Tuesday about the scam that involved her home – after the phone inquiries and visits started occurring. The Craigslist posting was subsequently flagged and taken down. But Harshman learned from some of the prospective renters that the scammers had then put out an e-mail blast to lure in more people. Auburn’s Colleen Williams was searching Craigslist to help find a home for her sister and her two teenage girls, who are moving to Auburn from Arizona. Williams said she saw the listing for the Rev. Gregg home and was initially drawn in by an offer that was, in retrospect, too good to be true. Three bedroom homes are renting in the area for about $1,400, she said. Williams said she made contact through the e-mail address and even received a rental application but just couldn’t believe the story about the key. “It worries me that other people will fall for it,” Williams said. Harshman said she’s reported the use of her house in the scam to the Placer County Sheriff’s Department and was told that because the perpetrators are in Africa, there’s nothing local law enforcement can do short of extradition, which is not going to happen. Real estate agent Cathy Asbury of Lyon Real Estate said she’s also answered inquiries from as far away as Chicago about the bogus rental offer on the Harshman’s property. “Imagine a family of six arriving with a U-haul from Ohio showing up at your front door and expecting to move in,” Asbury said. “My client is completely baffled.” Or expect someone local to show up at the front door while you’re away after paying the $400 deposit and, absent a key, breaking a window to move in. Harshman said she’s making sure that when her family leaves for a weekend in the next little while, friends will be staying inside the house as a precaution. ------------------------ Craigslist rental scam precautions: - Call the county property recorder’s office and find out who owns the property before handing over a check. - Don’t pay a deposit in cash. - Don’t wire money. - Try always to do business face-to-face. - Warning bells should go off if the “local” listing is from someone out of state or in another country. Information from: The Real Estate Bloggers Web site and nydailynews.com The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.