Consumer Alert: Craigslist Housing Scam Hits Lansing

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When Andrea Montgomery wanted to find an affordable home closer to her daughter's school, she searched on Craigslist.

"The Craigslist ad didn't have a phone number, but a lot of them don't," Montgomery said. "So, I just decided to stop by."

When she arrived at 1617 Barnes Ave., Montgomery happened to be greeted by the property owner, Brian Smith, who was moving out. She showed Smith the ad, but he said that wasn't the one he posted.

"I was shocked to the fact that it was only less than a week that it happened, because we just posted last Saturday," Smith said.

But he said he wasn't phased. He understands that anyone can copy and paste from other websites, and that's exactly what this scammer does.

The picture is the same, the ad is the same, but the rental price and contact information has been changed. Montgomery said there was no reason to suspect anything was wrong.

"It's really sad," Montgomery said. "I've heard of this happening in other cities, but not in Lansing. I knew this was happening in other places, not here."

Montgomery experienced this scam at another house all in the same day. She said that homeowner never even placed an ad on Craigslist, the scammer did it for him.

Realtors who use Craigslist say renters should always do their own investigation.

"Check the public records before entering into any rental situation, especially before you hand over your hard earned money," said Greater Lansing Housing Coalition Executive Director Katherine Draper. "I think it pays for everyone though to be aware that as with any other internet source, you have to be careful and cautious when you do use them."

As a homeowner, Smith said everyone should be cautious.

"In an economy like this, people are looking to make a buck, and they're doing it however they can," Smith said.

Draper said Montgomery took the right steps before renting. She didn't give her personal information or her money, but this experience still had an impact.

"I think I'll put a hold on looking, just for maybe a week or two so I can come to grips with what's going on," Smith said. "I'm definitely going to keep looking, but I'm going to be more cautious."

Lansing Police said they don't have anything on the books about this scam yet.

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