WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - An old Craigslist scam is causing new problems for Hurricane Florence victims and those in search of affordable housing in the Wilmington area.
Since the hurricane hit in September 2018, property manager and leasing agent Shelly Wilkie has seen an increase in Craigslist rental scams.
Scammers post fake listings for rental properties in the Wilmington area, often using photos and addresses of actual homes. These fake rentals are often listed at more affordable prices than typical rentals.
“I feel like they do that because people are so sensitive and people are in such dire straits," said Wilkie. "They really need a place to stay and when they see that, people are like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a deal’ and my best advice to them is if it seems too good to be true, it probably is unfortunately. It’s always a good thing to maybe to research on that.
"If they’re on Craigslist, they can always flag it if they don’t feel like it’s the right thing but I do see more of it since the hurricane since there are so many people displaced still from the storm.”
Wilkie has seen people fall victim to these scams, and says unfortunately, there are not many options for justice.
“I was with another real estate company here in town and I probably had one a month," she said. “They would call and say, ‘What can I do about this? I gave this guy $100. I’ve mailed him this. This listing is now with you and we’re looking for our money’ and we can’t help them.”
Reporting scams to the Attorney General’s office, as many did with price gougers after the hurricane, is an option.
Wilkie advised people to be wary of listings on Craigslist that come with an email server you may not recognize. She mentioned other warning signs as well.
“They give out a sob story. They usually want money up front and that should be a red flag right off the bat," Wilkie said. "The other thing is, if you respond to them or email them or reach out to them, ask them to contact you from their personal email account. If they’re very hesitant about that and they’re not really wanting to do that with you, that’s a scam. You’re wasting your time.
"It’s also a great opportunity for you to reach out to an agent. A real estate agent is going to be able to pull that information up on the MLS or any of the other multiple listing services. They have access to that and can kind of confirm whether it’s on the rental market or on the sales market.”
Wilkie also suggests not giving your telephone number to someone on Craigslist until you have established a legitimate relationship and can confirm they are not a scammer.
Despite the risk of Craigslist rental scams, Wilkie says Craigslist is still an effective way to find a rental property.
“We go through Zillow, Craigslist, HotPads, but the majority of my people who call me about properties are coming from Craigslist," she said. "It also opens it up to owners that don’t go through property management companies that are trying to rent out the homes themselves. It’s free for them to list those homes and I still think it’s a great format for advertising homes.”