Craigslist con artist lures would-be renters to Maryland Heights

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) - Con artists are using Craigslist to prey on home sellers and would-be renters. In Maryland Heights, a man selling his home discovered the property was listed as a rental online. Neal Coval said a stranger approached him as he was mowing the front lawn.

“She thinks it’s rental property. She found it on the internet as a rental property by a person that’s based in Texas,” Coval said.

Coval said the woman showed him the ad on her smartphone. It listed his three-bedroom home for $1,000 a month, including a refundable $800 security deposit.

The listing featured a picture of the home that was apparently lifted from the listing by Coval’s realtor. It also featured a bogus story about Coval, saying he was moving to Houston, Texas to work for a not-for profit organization.

“It threw me for a loop,” Coval said. “None of my family has gone to Houston. Nobody lives in Texas. Nobody has moved to Texas.”

It is unclear how Coval’s home was selected. The case is among many nationwide. Homeowners who are selling property are discovering bogus rental listings on Craigslist.com and Hotpads.com.

Maryland Heights Police Department’s Officer Mark Fedak said there are many things sellers can do to avoid becoming a victim.

“If you’re a potential seller, the smart thing to do is once your ad is listed, is to make it a point to continue to check Google (and other sites) to find out if there are any bogus ads that are out there,” Fedak said.

Renters, he added, should not accept any offer blind.

“You got to make sure that you’re able to see the property, meet the people, don’t give them money without signing a contract,” he added.

The listing for Coval’s property was by a man who identified himself as the Reverend Taylor Williams. The accompanying phone number included a Texas area code, but no one answered. Fedak, like Coval, noted numerous misspellings and punctuation errors with the listing and said they served as red flags.

Coval, in the meantime, has taken his home off the market as the case is sorted out.

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