A growing scam online shows houses up for rent without the knowledge of the owner or realtor. One family in White Settlement said pictures of their home were posted on Craigslist, and the poster was looking for more than money.
Tiffany Schmalken and her family just moved into their dream home in Springtown.
"We found this house on three acres, so [my husband] got the land he wanted and I got my garden tub and my craft room, so we both ended up winning," Schmalken said.
After they moved in, they put their old home in White Settlement up for sale, which allowed the realtors to show it without having to inconvenience their family.
"We had the realtor come in and take pictures of the house vacant. Then she posted our listing online with the vacant house pictures," Schmalken said.
Those pictures, showing the vacant home with newly renovated kitchen, should speak to buyers, but apparently they also spoke to someone else.
"I got a message from a Facebook friend, saying, 'Hey! I love your house, and that price is so good, can I rent it from you?' I asked her why do you think I'm renting my house? My house is up for sale," Schmalken said.
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An ad that appeared on Craigslist used the photos Schmalken's real estate agent had posted online to sell the house, but the Craigslist poster claimed to be renting it.
It was all revealed by a Facebook friend of the Schmalkens, who stumbled upon the ad renting the three-bedroom home for just more than $1,000 a month.
The poster even went so far as to create an email address with Schmalken's name.
Their friends decided to send an email to the address just to see how far this mystery landlord would go in trying to rent Schmalken's home.
"[They said] you could go see it, but they had the keys with them, so they would all just have to look through the windows. Once they received the deposit then they would overnight the keys, 'cause they were located in Louisiana for work. [It is a] very elaborate scheme," Schmalken said.
There was an application asking for all sorts of personal information — an identity thief's dream. Then potential renters would wire hundreds of dollars for the deposit and rent.
"The fact that somebody was impersonating me online was disturbing to say the least. Especially the fact that people may be sending them money, and my names associated with that? It was disturbing," Schmalken said.
A simple note to Craigslist got the listing pulled down. But there's nothing stopping it from going back up.
"It goes back to that old saying, if it's too good to be true, it probably is," Schmalken said.
If you're selling a home, take photos with the furniture still inside. Realtors tell NBC 5 Responds that vacant houses are the ones typically used in this scheme so there’s no one inside the house to interfere.
Never send anyone money for a house you haven't physically seen. We've even reported on situations where scammers have figured out ways to get you in a lockbox. So be sure to always ask to meet the landlord or realtor in person — and look them up.
And if their only way of communicating is an email, that's a red flag.