Internet scammers try Orono renters

Posted Oct. 03, 2008, at 9:03 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 5:55 a.m.

ORONO, Maine —The Craigslist post seems like catnip for college students: $600 a month, great condition, three-bedroom home near UMaine. By the way, utilities are included.

Too bad the Glenwood Street ranch house is already inhabited by several University of Maine football players who have no plans to move out. But that detail isn’t stopping some enterprising Craigslist scammers, who are looking to make a buck off the fake Internet ad.

Craigslist is a Web site with local classified ads that is growing in popularity in Maine.

“We are renting our home because we will be spending a long time traveling around Africa and we need a clean responsible person that we can trust to take a proper care of the home at all time,” states the scammers’ e-mail response to all queries. “You can’t go inside the house because the keys are right here with us but feel free to go view the exterior of the house and upon approval the keys will be sent with you.”

Thoughtfully, they are accepting payment by both Western Union and Money Gram — but they don’t include their names or contact information.

“Anything that sounds too good to be true probably is,” said Capt. Josh Ewing of the Orono Police Department. “Particularly with ads you see on the Internet. Anything that asks you to send them the money and they’ll send you the product, or in this case the key, is a scam.”

The scammers’ sketchy grammar and unorthodox rental system aren’t stopping college kids desperate for a housing bargain.

“From what I understand, people are showing up at the house and just walking around the house at all hours of the day and looking in windows,” said Phil Cormier, the real estate agent who sold the property in May. “People who have found it on Craigslist have driven by the property and say, ‘Hey, this looks occupied. Not like someone has gone to Africa.’”

Cormier said that the home’s original owner had tried to sell it himself on Craigslist. He took photographs of the home and wrote a nice description. Evidently someone cut and pasted his information for the scam, which first went online in June.

Since then, the ad has been removed by authorities and reposted a number of times — most recently on Thursday.

“You have to be apprehensive of what you see on Craigslist,” Cormier said.

The low monthly rent should be a clue that the ad is suspicious, said Mark Sands, Orono’s town assessor, who said that some curious people had asked his office who owned the property.

“The amount should be a big tip-off,” Sands said. “It should have been renting for twice that amount.”

The police had not received complaints about the post, which is the first Craigslist property scam Ewing has heard of in Orono. Ewing thinks it’s a good sign no one has fallen for the $600 trap. This may be because the ad seems aimed at a younger, Internet-savvy generation. That’s not the usual Internet scam demographic, he said.

“Internet scams are going up,” Ewing said. “They try to seek out the elderly as victims, and occasionally, one will slip through.”

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