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Woman falls victim to Craigslist rental scam, warns others about phony house listings
BATON ROUGE - A woman who put her trust in a guy she found on Craigslist is now out $1,500.
Genell Smalls says she had been saving up to move her family of six to a nicer neighborhood, but instead was scammed and is now in a bit of a bind.
"I really thought it was legit," she said.
Smalls found the house listing on Facebook and it led her to a Craigslist page. The four-bedroom, three-bathroom home in Prairieville is in the Eagles Landing neighborhood and is listed for $750 a month. After reviewing the photos online, she called the number associated with the listing.
The person who answered the phone told her he was the owner of the house and intended to rent the property for a few years. Smalls tells 2 On Your Side she trusted him since he told her through text message that he's an honest person.
Smalls was emailed an application which she filled out and emailed back. Later, the "owner" visited her Baton Rouge home so Smalls could sign a lease. Then she was asked for payment.
"He told me to go to Walmart and to get a OneVanilla card," Smalls said.
She got two - one for the deposit and the other for the first month's rent. They both had $750 on them. Smalls says he asked her to send him a photo of the cards so he had proof. He met her at her house again to pick up the payment and had arranged another meeting to exchange the keys on Dec. 1.
On Tuesday morning, Smalls packed up her house and loaded the contents into a van. She spent time switching over her utilities and forwarding her mail. She called the "owner" to tell him she was ready to meet for the keys. He said he had a "family emergency" but would be coming to meet her.
"He said he was on his way but he never showed," Smalls said.
The house in Prairieville is listed for sale on realtor.com for $283,000. Through 2 On Your Side's investigation, three other homes in Ascension Parish were found on Craigslist with the same person's phone number: 570-443-1114. A house on Lazy Oaks Drive in Gonzales is listed on Redfin for $530,000 and has an open house on Sunday. It was posted on Craigslist a month ago for rent. Another house in Gonzales on Lakeway Cove Avenue is listed on Redfin as sold in November. The same property was listed on Craigslist this past Wednesday, Dec. 2. An additional property on Majestic Wood Avenue is listed on realtor.com for $224,900. The same house was posted for rent on Craigslist 27 days ago. All four homes are owned by other people.
The whole ordeal has put Smalls in a bind for her December rent at her current place.
"It took me two months to save up to actually move," she said.
Smalls has filed a couple of reports and provided a description of the person to police. In the fine print at the bottom of Craigslist listings, it warns people to not wire funds and do not buy or rent anything sight unseen. While smalls went to see the outside of the house, she never saw the inside.
Thursday, 2 On Your Side called and texted the 570-443-1114 number multiple times but did not receive a response.
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