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Montgomery County’s Office of Consumer Protection Warns About Increased Scams Involving Craigslist Around the Holidays

For Immediate Release: Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Shopping or selling on Craigslist can be convenient, but Montgomery County’s Office of Consumer Protection has a warning about either end of potential transactions: buyers and sellers beware—especially around the holidays. This open marketplace also contains scams targeting both buyers and sellers.

Eric Friedman, the director of the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection, said scams involving Craigslist can involve transactions as simple as merchandise or as complicated as real estate.

“Although this marketplace is a great way to do direct business for many, it also has opened an entire criminal world of people trying to take advantage of those expecting to simply improve their lives through what they believe to be a great deal that they can make online,” said Department Director Friedman. “And as much as this goes on throughout the year, the holiday season is an especially ripe time for criminals because they try to take advantage of people when they are distracted by many special events, looking for holiday deals or ready to make changes as the new year approaches.”

Director Friedman said those looking to rent a house or apartment need to watch out for fake advertisements. 

In this approach, scammers copy attractive photos from legitimate advertisements and typically offer an unusually low rental price. These ads will contain a story about why the landlord cannot personally meet the tenant at the house or apartment. The prospective tenant is instructed to send the money for the security deposit or first month’s rent to the scammer. In exchange, the prospective renter is told the “landlord” will mail the keys to the tenant or leave the keys at a designated location.

“Some of these ‘it-sounds-to-good-to-be true’ deals end with money being sent for something that never existed,” said Director Friedman. “Rental advertisements may also include phony government documents to convince the prospective tenant that the advertisement is legitimate. Our office investigated a complaint in which the scammer sent a fake document to the consumer inquiring about the rental. This creative scammer made a fictitious ‘Certificate of Occupancy’ to fool the prospective tenant into believing that the rental apartment advertised was properly registered with Montgomery County.” 

Among the false information that was in the document:

  • A reference to the Montgomery County “Department of Public Works” (no such agency exists).
  • Fictitious official names and signatures (the County Government does not have any employees by those names).
  • Fictitious address listed as the issuing office was actually the address of the County Executive’s office.

Sellers also need to be careful on Craigslist, said Department Director Friedman.

“When consumers offer items for sale on Craigslist, it is common for scammers to contact the consumer and pretend to be interested in purchasing the item for sale,” he said. “The fake buyer typically will have a story about why the buyer needs to pay with a check that is made payable for more than the selling price. In return, the scam buyer will instruct the consumer to send a check back to the buyer to return the extra money. Of course, the scam buyer’s check will prove to be worthless and the consumer selling the item will have lost the money sent to the scam buyer or may receive nothing for having sold the advertised item.”

The Craigslist website contains helpful tips about how to avoid several different scams and can be found at https://www.craigslist.org/about/scams.

In addition, sellers and buyers in Montgomery County are invited by County Police to conduct transactions at “exchange zones” at Police stations in order to exchange merchandise and payment. 

For additional information about this or other scams, and to file complaints, contact the County Office of Consumer Protection via email at ConsumerProtection@MontgomeryCountyMD.gov or by phone at 240-777-3636. 

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Release ID: 19-351
Media Contact: Neil H. Greenberger 240-777-6532