A scam has hit Haywood County that targets people trying to find an affordable home in a highly competitive market where affordable housing isn’t meeting the demand.
Although the scam has been around a while, Haywood seems to be a recent target, as multiple people have reached out to The Mountaineer to try to shed light on the swindlers trying to con people out of their money.
Those interviewed by The Mountaineer said phony listings have appeared on Craigslist that feature a photo of a local home, claiming it is for rent, usually at a price far below what is normally seen in the area. Upon calling, the person inquiring about the property is told the owners have recently moved far away, and they are directed to send an application and deposit.
Michele Rogers, who owns the property management company Select Homes, said she got a call from someone who responded to an ad for a home she found on Craigslist.
“A girl who did not give us her name, she had called the office,” Rogers said. “She responded to the Craigslist ad. She had already filled out an application with her name and social security number. She was told to wire or mail the money and that the owner was out of town. Nobody was able to show her the home. Luckily she did a drive-by and saw our sign.”
Once Rogers determined it was a scam, she flagged the listing and posted it on several local Facebook pages, where it was shared by numerous people. The website administrators didn’t seem to take notice until word about the scam spread
“After 12 days, Craigslist finally took it down,” Rogers said. “I had been flagging it over and over, and Craigslist had not done anything. But when I posted it to several pages on social media … I think other people had gone in and flagged it as well.”
Deposit, info sought
Andrew Ferguson is trying to sell his Haywood County home, and in recent days, it was listed for rent on Craigslist. He said his personal information was included on the fake listing, and he got a couple of inquiries about the property. A couple of days ago, Ferguson even received a text message from a friend saying that a guy he knew saw the listing and was wanting him to be a reference.
“He said, ‘hey buddy, I know someone looking to rent your house,’” Ferguson said with a laugh. “I told him to tell his friend not to send any money anywhere for this house.”
After reporting the scam to the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office and telling some folks, Ferguson quickly realized the scam was by no means an isolated incident.
“My realtor told me this is not even the first one they had this year, and I mean 2020,” he said.
Waynesville Police Captain Brian Beck said he’s familiar with this kind of scam. In fact, a family member almost fell victim to something similar just recently. In that case, the scammers wanted Beck’s family member to go to a local CVS to send a money order.
Luckily, the CVS clerk told his family member it was a scam. However, he said recent cases in this area have involved people asking for money by wire or bank transfers.
The tough part about these scams is that once the money is sent, it’s nearly impossible to get back. Beck said the countries where these scammers operate originate don’t work with American law enforcement — even at the federal level.
“That’s one of the major problems we had with the Nigerian scammers,” he said. “Those cases are turned over to the FBI, and then they have trouble dealing with those countries.”
Beck said some of the scammers who have preyed upon people looking for housing in Haywood have even somehow gained access to the codes for lockboxes, so he said that even someone has the code for the home, it’s best to still meet up with the landlord or property manager before making any commitments or sending any money.
“It’s simple. Unless you know the people and you can verify who they are, don’t do it,” he said. “There are too many people out here who are scamming and taking thousands of dollars from people every day.”
Rogers echoed Beck’s words about sending money over the internet. She said some of the cases she’s heard of involve people moving to Haywood from a faraway location, which means they have to make a commitment without even seeing the home. She said the first thing to consider is how realistic the listing is.
“My advice is if it sounds too good to be true, it is,” she said. “A three bedroom, three bath house on a huge lot with a two-car garage for $600? That’s a red flag in itself.”