Consumer advice: Craigslist risky source for real estate deals

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A reader called to warn us about a Craigslist scam on a local rental property. She was looking for a rental house on Craigslist and found a promising 3 bedroom, 2 bath, almost 1,500-square-foot possibility. The price was fantastic at $700 per month. She called the number on the listing and the “story” sounded promising.

Then this sleuthing reader decided to do a little more investigating. She drove by the property and saw a Real Property Management sign in front of the house. The con artist said not to worry because he was the owner and she could deal directly with him. He instructed our reader to go to Walmart and use the money transfer service to transfer $700 for first month’s rent and $700 for the security deposit into his account.

Still leery, our reader called Real Property Management and found out the truth. Turns out that unbelievable price was indeed too good to be true and she was talking to a crook trying to make a quick buck. The real price of the rental was $1,425 per month. Had she fallen for this scam, she would have been out $1,400 with no home to live in and no way to retrieve her cash.

It’s a good thing she sniffed out the scam and avoided catastrophe. Another good source to validate a Craigslist real estate listing is www.realtor.com. I was able to find the listing with the actual rental price and the management company contact.

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IS THAT A THIEF IN YOUR ROOM? Be extra vigilant when checking into your hotel room. Would-be thieves are lurking around the lobby area listening in as guests check into their hotel room. All the information they need is your name and room number. Often guests will say and even spell their name out loud for the hotel clerk, then the thief follows the guest up to their room to get the room number.

Armed with that information, the crook waits to see when you leave your room. They go to a guest phone and call housekeeping to ask that “their” room be cleaned right way. When the housekeeper is in your room with the door wide open, the crook walks right in and acts like he’s the guest in that room. He snoops around and picks up valuables he sees lying around. If you leave watches/jewelry or laptops in you room, they will be stolen.

Here are some hotel safety tips to consider:

1. At check-in show your ID to avoid saying your name out loud where it will be overheard.

2. Use the additional lock anytime you’re in the room.

3. If you lose your room key, make sure the hotel clerk disables the first one when they issue you a replacement.

4. Leave TV and lights on when you leave the room and the “do not disturb” sign on the door, making it look like someone is in the room.

5. Don’t travel with items of great value. Check with the hotel about their personal property loss policy.

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LOCAL UTILITY SCAMS: Many electric, water, and natural gas customers throughout the country are being targeted by impostor utility scams each day. Kootenai Electric had a warning on its website, advising customers of this potential utility scam.

Scammers typically use phone, in-person, and online tactics to target customers. Raising awareness and educating customers about scams is our best defense to avoid them. Typically a scammer will try to get you to pay a bill right away by telling you it’s overdue or your service will be disconnected immediately unless you pay at once. Often they try to get you to pay with gift cards or money transfers, which are virtually untraceable. This is a red flag that it’s a scam.

If you’re ever unsure about the authenticity of a caller or suspect the call might be fraudulent, hang up and call your utility company directly.? That way you’ll be able to check on the status of your account directly.

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REMEMBER: I’m on your side.

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If you’ve encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please send me an email at terridickersonadvocate@gmail.com or call me at 208-274-4458. As The Cd’A Press Consumer Gal, I’m here to help. Please include your name and a phone number or email. I’m available to speak about consumerism to schools, and local and civic groups. I’m a copywriter and consumer advocate living in Coeur d’Alene.

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