A story BoiseDev members got first.
Lisa and Thomas own a cabin in New Meadows they sometimes list on Vrbo as a vacation rental.
But recently, the couple found out a scammer used their cabin to dupe another unsuspecting victim.
According to the couple, a man saw a listing on Craigslist. He paid $3,500 to someone, believing he was renting the cabin on a long-term lease. He moved out of his old place, thinking he had a new cabin to rent.
Then… Lisa and Thomas spotted him on their doorbell cam.
“I saw where this guy had parked way down our driveway, and he had on sunglasses and one of the surgical masks we wear now for COVID,” Lisa said. “And I’m watching him move all around our property looking in I could hear him moving stuff looking for keys.”
After trying and failing to get inside, he left. But the next day, he returned.
Lisa and Thomas — who asked us to keep their last names private for safety reasons — again watched on the remote security camera. The man returned to the house to look for what he thought was the key to his new rental. Not knowing what was happening, the couple called the police, afraid someone was trying to break in.
Two parties scammed
It turns out, both Lisa and Thomas – and the man they saw on the cameras – were victims of a scam. Someone took their listing, complete with photos and details from rental site Vrbo, and copied it over to Craiglist with an unbelievable deal.
“One of the things he had said to me was ‘I knew this was too good to be true.’ He paid $3,500 to these people that were scamming,” Lisa said. “The scary thing is to have a scammer group go after your property and send strangers. Bless his heart, he willingly gave them the money, so there’s nothing he can do.”
The unknown scam artists made off with the cash, the man didn’t have a place to live – and Lisa and Thomas were left worrying it could happen again.
“But (scammers committed) fraud because they’re using our cabin, our name, but with their email addresses and phone numbers,” Lisa said.
Lisa and Thomas contacted local police, who weren’t able to provide help. The couple showed BoiseDev the evidence they provided to police, which helps confirm this story.
After striking out with police, they contacted a private investigator who explained how wire fraud is common, and the people who are committing the crime are almost impossible to catch.
The pair did their own digging and were able to locate and contact one of the scammers on Facebook, but with what was likely a fake name and photo. Nothing came of it.
However, Lisa and Thomas are not alone. Wire fraud happens often in real estate and property management and it’s been happening since websites like Craigslist came about.
Real estate and property management
Becky Enrico Crum of Boise Regional Realtors says she has had people call and say they had put a deposit down for a rental over the years, but in reality, they paid a scammer.
“That has happened more than once throughout the years that I’ve been doing this,” she said. “And it’s really sad because what the scammers are doing is they’re going in, they’re finding pictures of listings of properties which most everybody can get to, and then they’re creating their own rental ads with their own property management companies.”
Crum says in these situations, the list price is usually too good to be true, but if someone is desperate, they may not think twice before wiring scammers “rent” money.
“I think it’s just people are used to buying everything online,” Enrico Crum said. “So they don’t think anything of sending money, it’s like ‘can I Venmo you’ or ‘can I PayPal you.’ I mean all of that has become so popular now that I think that people just trust it more than they did in the past.”
Lisa Funkhouser, of Decker of Property Management, says the problem is even “a lot deeper” than what Lisa and Thomas went through.
“There’s some really crooked stuff going on,” she said. “So we’re a property manager here in town we only deal with long-term. And there are things that are happening, Craigslist for the longest time has been just the worst so we quit even putting stuff on Craigslist. Because even when we’d flag it over and over and over again they wouldn’t take it down right away. So it got really really frustrating, I mean we’ve had it so bad where people have walked into our tenant’s houses.”
Funkhouser says these scammers will go as far as to say things like “go ahead and look in the windows,” or “we fired the property manager so take the for rent sign out of the yard.’” The scammers do this to trick “tenants” into thinking they can move in.
“So our policy is, do not apply for any of our houses until you’ve met us at the property,” she said. “And we feel like that it should be standard across the board.”
Enrico Crum, says Lisa and Thomas’ Vrbo situation is uncommon, as these vacation websites hide the address until payment is made to the property owner. But in Lisa and Thomas’ case, the scammers took advantage of Lisa and Thomas because their house was easy to identify as it sits on a block with few other homes.
“When I have a scammer sending people up to my property, strangers, that scary that’s really scary. We were fairly horrified,” Lisa said.
BoiseDev attempted to reach out to Vrbo for comment but did not hear back by deadline.