House-for-rent scam shocks unsuspecting Port couple

Craigslist ad discovered after woman showed up for bogus open house
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

A Port Washington couple in the midst of selling their house on the city’s west side got a shock Sunday when a police officer stopped by to tell them their condominium had been listed for rent on Craigslist.

“I was shocked,” said Vicki Benson. “I couldn’t believe it when I heard it. At first, I felt disbelief, then I thought it was a joke. Then we became a little paranoid.”

The scam was discovered when a woman stopped at the condominium for an open house on Sunday, Police Chief Kevin Hingiss said.

Benson and her husband weren’t home,  and the woman quickly discovered that there wasn’t an open house and the condo, which had been listed as vacant, appeared to be occupied, Hingiss said.

She then notified police, he said.

Officer Dan Wolff stopped to talk to Benson, who had just received a call from her daughter notifying her of the scam. Her daughter, a real estate agent, had received a call about the condo from a man in Colorado interested in leasing it.

“It’s crazy,” Benson said. 

Hingiss said police called the number listed in the Craigslist advertisement, but it had already been disconnected.

“It’s not that unusual for this sort of thing to happen on Craigslist,” he said.

In a scam such as this, Hingiss said, the person who lists the property for rent usually tries to collect a deposit for the home or seeks money to do a records check.

“They collect the money and it’s gone,” he said.

“People have to be careful with anything they do over the Internet. Try to deal locally with a real estate agent, and remember if what’s being advertised seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

After being notified of the scam, Benson said, Craigslist said it would take the notice offline, but as of Monday it was still up.

Although she hadn’t heard of this scheme before, Benson said one of her daughters has since told her that a friend of hers was caught up in a scam like this, putting money down for a property that was fraudulently listed.

“I feel bad for the wonderful woman who notified the police,” she added. “I want to thank her for helping to stop this. How smart of her to go to the police.”

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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