CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - The popular Web site Craigslist has gotten into trouble recently for ads that some say promote prostitution. A NewsChannel 5 investigation has found scam artists have also been using the site to con people who are looking for a place to rent.
Consumer investigator Jennifer Kraus exposed how the scam works.
Pamela Sniadecki thought the house sounded too good to be true.
"My husband emailed the ad to me and said, 'Look at this deal,'" Sniadecki said.
According to the ad, which had been posted on Craigslist, a the three bedroom, two bath house in Clarksville was available for just $800 a month.
"And, I believed it all."
Sniadecki responded to the ad and soon got an e-mail from a man who said he owned the home. The "owner" told her she could move in just as soon as he received first month's rent, plus a $500 deposit from her.
"It was $1,300 that I was supposed to send through Western Union," the Clarksville mother tells NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
Sniadecki said the man told her he was living in London, and that she would not be able to see the inside of the house until she rented it.
So, her instructions, she explained were, "To come here and look at the outside of the house, because the woman who had the key was severely sick in the hospital."
NewsChannel 5 Investigates tracked down the man Sniadecki had been dealing with and called him.
He told consumer investigator Jennifer Kraus by phone, "I'm in London right now at my place of work."
Kraus asked him about the home.
"I'm wondering if it's still available?"
Without hesitation, he replied, "Yeah, it's still available."
Kraus then asked, "And you own the home at 3928 Benjamin Drive?"
His answer, "Yes, I do."
But get this. He doesn't own the home, Pamela Pedraza does.
Pedraza told NewsChannel 5 Investigates, "It's a really wonderful house."
Pedraza was trying to rent it out, but the real listing for her home was posted not on Craigslist. The real listing was posted on a Web site operated by realtors here in Middle Tennessee.
Pedraza was shocked when she discovered what was going on.
"It's a shame. I'm very upset."
No one is more upset than Pedraza's realtor Neal Campbell, who had posted the original ad online. He said the scam artist copied everything about the house he could from Campbell's original ad and used it on his own ad on Craigslist.
"He went through here and right clicked and pasted the pictures. All the information you need about the house is there," Campbell said.
Believe it or not, the scam artist even copied the realtor's name and claimed to be Neal Campbell both in his emails and even in talking to NewsChannel 5.
Kraus asked the man on the phone, "Are you Neal Campbell?"
He answered, "Yeah."
Kraus asked again, "You are Neal Campbell?"
Again, his reply, "Yeah."
Sniadecki, the woman who almost became a victim of the scam, said "He just made it seem like it was his house, and I fell right into it."
Sniadecki also said she was that close to sending the $1,300. Now, she's glad she didn't.
Craigslist does now post warnings against scams and fraud on its Web site. The Web site even urges consumers to never send money by Western Union, and only deal with local folks you can meet in person.
This scam obviously breaks both of those rules. If you read his emails, you can tell the man behind the scheme is not from Middle Tennessee. When he talks about water in the house, he calls it "hydro." And, he refers to the garage as a "car park."
The real Neal Campbell said,"It doesn't sound like English."
The Clarksville-based realtor said he knows of nearly a dozen people who initially responded to the fake Craigslist ad.
Kraus asked the man on the phone, "When did you live here in Clarksville?"
He made it clear, he didn't like us trying to get more information. He told us, "You ask too many questions. Just send me an e-mail."
Then we told him we knew he was running a scam.
Kraus told him, "I also know you do not own the house."
He replied, "You're a f------ a------" and then hung up.
"He's really just taking money from innocent people that have no idea," Sniadecki said.
The ad for that home in Clarksville apparently wasn't his only ad. We found other ads just like it for homes in other cities including Orlando, Florida, Milwaukee and Wisconsin, all using that same phone number in London as the contact point.
In just the last few days, we've heard from others who have run across the same kind of ads on Craigslist here in Nashville as well as in Hendersonville. The ads are similar, but from what we can tell, they are being placed by entirely different people.
The folks at Craigslist said as soon as they are notified that an ad is a scam, they remove it. And that's what has happened with most of these ads. It appears that in all of the cities where these scams have run, people have responded to them. Fortunately, most it seems have realized that the ad was a scam before they actually sent any money.