MILWAUKEE (WTMJ) - Shelly R. was on the seller's side of the high-demand housing market. She had nine showings scheduled within an hour of listing her Milwaukee home. But the interest took an unexpected turn.
"The very next day, a friend of mine messaged me and she's like, 'I found your house on Craigslist,'" Shelly recalls.
Then, after that final showing, Shelly said someone came to her front door asking about the home being for rent.
"He shows us this application that is sent to him and it has my fiance's name at the bottom of the application," she said.
Shelly said she found the Craiglist posting.
"He used the same verbiage as the listing from our realtor in his ad, just a copy and paste kind of thing," she explained.
Shelly decided to reach out and ask for an application. The person responded to her inquiry via text message stating he was a private owner.
Scott Bush with the Greater Milwaukee Association of Realtors is familiar with what he says is oftentimes a scheme to get potential tenants to send over a security deposit.
"It's been around for a long time. I have heard very sad accounts of these poor renters who show up to a property with a moving van full of furniture with nowhere to go," Bush said.
That's why the Better Business Bureau stresses renters should see a place and landlord in person before sending money and before filling out a rental application.
"You have to be careful of identity theft in these situations," Lisa Schiller said with the BBB serving Wisconsin.
Schiller says homeowners with listings can protect themselves by making sure photos of their homes online are watermarked.
"It will make it more difficult for scammers to copy photos of their properties online," Schiller said.
Shelly isn't sure if the man who knocked on her door put down a security deposit or submitted his application. She didn't get his contact information.
"He was just actually driving by because he had not had good communication with this person," Shelly said.
"There's people, vulnerable people that are putting their information out there -- their bank accounts, Social Security numbers, all of that on this document, and you know, I mean I just would hate for people to be taken advantage of," she said.
Shelly alerted Craigslist about the rental postings. She discovered there were two different ones. She's still worried about her fiance's name on that rental application.
"What if something comes back to him? Or us? I don't want that to happen either," she continued.
"Now more than ever with buying a house, we're watching all of those accounts closely."
WTMJ reached out to Wisconsin's Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to see what advice the state agency can provide to consumers. DATCP provided the below advice:
"The Bureau of Consumer Protection suggests that consumers listing properties for sale report suspected fraud immediately to that platform with the false listing. Consider searching on a web browser by address, or reverse image search to see if you can identify other fraudulent listings for the property. If there is suspected fraud on the platform where their original listing occurred (i.e. Zillow and Craigslist,) consumers should also contact that site. Consumers can also file a complaint with DATCP to assist with mediating these issues if they do not receive a timely response from the companies.
For potential renters, the Bureau of Consumer Protection advises consumers when renting property to:
- Know exactly with whom you are doing business. Does the person / management company actually exist?
- Verify the property address exists and is actually for rent.
- Inspect the property (inside and out) before you put any money down.
- Get a rental agreement in writing, if possible.
- Never wire money.
- Be cautious if you are asked to send money out of state when the property you are renting is located in Wisconsin. Ask why and verify the reason.
- Be wary if the advertised price is much lower than that of similar properties or the listing has grammatical, spelling errors, or overuse of capital letters."