KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – One of the most popular destinations for users of Craigslist is the housing section – and scammers take advantage of it.

A Knoxville couple says pictures and descriptions of a rental home they listed on Craigslist were cloned, or stolen, and a prospective renter didn’t know it.

They’re sharing their story in hopes to bring attention to the costly scam, happening here in our area.

The would-be renter lost $650 before the owners of the home discovered the scam.

Craigslist has been the go-to place for many rental seekers as well as rental scammers.

Although Craigslist removes suspicious ads quickly, many rental scams stay posted for up to 20 hours. That’s more than enough time to lure some apartment or home-seekers to lose their money.

The cloned listing is one of the most popular Craigslist rental scams.

This could be because it’s so cheap to execute: The scammer copies and pastes information from a legitimate rental ad, then offers a price that’s literally “too good to be true.”

“It’s a three-bedroom, one bath, eat in the kitchen….”

Developers Terri Terry and Bill Terry restored this home in Knoxville and listed it for rent last month.

A young couple showed up in early October to see the house. A neighbor who saw the couple and know the Terrys phoned them.

“A neighbor next door called wanted to know why we were not here showing the house to a young couple. We had not talked to that young couple. The scammers had.”

The Terrys posted their home on Craigslist. But scammers ripped off the pictures, created a new email address, then posted.

“And changed the amount of rent and put their contact,” said Terri Terry.

The fake ad listed the rent at hundreds of dollars under the actual rental price.

“They do everything by text. You text them, they’ll text you back. This is an ongoing thing,” said Terri Terry.

So Bill Terry tries turns the tables. In a text, the scammer asked Mr. Terry to fill out an application – which he did.

“I have contacted the scammer and told them I was interested in renting the house,” said Bill Terry. “At some point they said sorry we can’t meet with you, we have an illness in the family. My aunt is supposed to come show the house will not be available. However, this is my Aunt’s bank account number, so if you will just go ahead and deposit the money into that bank account.”

Bill didn’t send the money. But he says the scammers did their homework and were devious in avoiding detection.

“They created a G-mail address in my wife’s name,” Bill Terry said, with Terri adding, “They used my maiden name instead of my married name.”

The couple who fell for the con lost $650 by sending money to the scammers, a scheme we’re familiar with.

Last November, we reported that Susan Chester was living out of her SUV after sending all of her savings to a so-called landlord she never met. Susan had responded to a rental ad on Craigslist. The home in Knoxville was perfect for her. But she was never able to get inside it.

The landlord only sent pictures claiming he was out of town and couldn’t show it.

All her correspondence was by email. Susan said the deal was so good, she accepted and sent the money.

“I put down $2,250. Three payments,” she said. “The first month, the last month and security. It was sent via a Wal-Mart gift card.”

There are tell-tale signs to this scam:

  • First, the deal is “too good to be true”
  • Next, the landlord or owner is out of town: So, you’re not able to get inside the house.
  • You are asked to provide personal information
  • Once approved you are directed to either wire money or pay with gift cards.

Mrs. Terry says never say yes to a deal if the landlord can’t show you the rental property personally.

“I will be on-site to show them the house that is the bigee, that you meet the owner of the house,” she said.

The Terrys contacted the Knoxville Police Department and filed a police report, and they got in touch with Craigslist and the fake ad has been taken down.

As Terri Terry said, a dead giveaway of this scam is when you don’g get a tour of the unit’s interior.

Legitimate landlords will arrange a tour, also, they will usually accept a personal check, cashier’s check, or money order; whereas the “owner” (a.k.a. scammer) insists on payment in advance and wants the funds sent by wire transfer.

Money should only change hands when a lease is signed.

If you are required to send money in advance – be suspicious.