Thursday, April 14, 2016

Within Days Of Listing Home For Sale, Virginia Couple Get Unplanned Visits From Multiple Strangers Responding To Bogus Craigslist Rent Scam Ad; Teen Sleuth Uses "Counter Hacking" To Trace Back Scammer's Location To Nigeria

In Blacksburg, Virginia, The Roanoke Times reports:
  • Adam and Amy Stevens said they were recently shocked to find a familiar four-bedroom rental listed on Craigslist for just $700 a month. It was the home they’ve lived in since 2009.

    Then, they got another surprise: People were actually stopping by their home to inquire about its availability.

    Amy Stevens said she first suspected a problem when her neighbor phoned while she was attending one of her son’s soccer games. The neighbor told her a stranger had showed up on their street and was asking questions about the Stevens’ home.

    “She said, ‘Amy are you really wanting to rent your house for $700,’ and I was like, ‘What!,’ ” Amy Stevens said.

    During the past two weeks the same advertisement has drawn multiple strangers to the couple’s house in the Maple Ridge Village neighborhood, all of them ready to capitalize on the seemingly good deal.

    The family, who put their house on the market to sell on March 24, said they have never had intentions of renting it nor did they post it on the popular classified ad-filled website.

    The unplanned visitors, some of whom neighbors have witnessed peering into the family’s windows, have caused them much alarm and the response from the website company and local law enforcement has been frustrating.

    “At this point nobody seems to really want to do anything and nobody seems to care,” Adam Stevens said.
    Within days of the first visitor, three more people called in response to the rental ad. And by Wednesday, Amy Stevens said she decide to post the listing on Facebook and ask people to “flag it” in hopes of getting it removed.

    “Within 30 minutes they said it had been flagged for removal,” Amy Stevens said.

    She said people continued to call and visit the address. One visitor told her he had been informed that the house was empty and he could go in.

    Neighbor Tim Hartin intercepted another interested party, which he described as nice, but very disappointed to learn the house was not for rent.

    “They seemed bummed out. They said they’d drove from an hour away,” Hartin said.

    One caller provided Amy Stevens, who teaches at Blacksburg High School, a phone number and email address for the person behind the fake ad, which she relayed [to] one of her students, senior Josh Sternfeld.

    Sternfeld said “counter hacking” was one of his hobbies and after an email exchange he got the scammer to visit his personal website and from that was able to track the scammer’s IP address back to Lagos, Nigeria.

    Using the provided phone number and email address, The Roanoke Times requested and was sent the rental application from the scammer.

    In the email exchange, the person identifies himself as Keith Friedberg and writes that he has transferred from his “working place” to Houston, Texas. He also claimed the rental rate was so cheap because he was counting on the renter to do routine maintenance and keep the house “tidy.”

    Along with a variety of personal information, the document requests, “You picture and You wife picture,” and asks the potential renter to “stick to your words” because Friedberg is “putting everything into Gods hand.”

    According to researcher Damon McCoy, the Stevens’ situation is a common one when it comes to Craigslist rental scams.

    In March, McCoy, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering at New York University, and two other researchers published a study in which they found that Craigslist only catches about half of the rental scams listed on its site.

    According to the report, McCoy and his team analyzed more than 2 million Craigslist rental listings during a five month period and detected about 29,000 fraudulent listings in 20 major cities. They compared that number with the number of ads flagged as “suspicious” by Craigslist and found the site only caught 47 percent of the fake ads.(1)
For more, see Craigslist scam scares Blacksburg family.
(1) For the report, see Understanding Craigslist Rental Scams.

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