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Internet Rental Property Scam Targets Tornado Victims

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OKLAHOMA CITY Okla_ Wednesday Oklahoma's Attorney General issued a consumer alert, claiming criminals are cashing in on last week's tornadoes in the Moore and Shawnee areas.

They say criminals, most likely overseas, are doing it by scamming potential renters recently displaced from their homes. Through their misfortune, they're finding opportunity. The scam was brought to light this week after realtors in Oklahoma City reported fraudulent activity on Craigslist.

These scammers know hundreds of people were displaced from their homes and that they're desperately looking for rental properties until they're able to rebuild.

Victims are looking on Craigslist and immediately wiring deposits, only to find out no home ever existed.

The Lawton Board of Realtors said while no such reports have been made locally, it's not to say it can't happen. They say the best way to protect yourself when house hunting is to make sure you're physically there for the transaction and to do your research behind the person or company you'll be renting from.

These days, you can find just about anything you want on Craigslist. When looking for a place to live, Lawton Board of Realtors Executive Vice President Edward McKesson said buyer or renter: beware.

"It's just a matter of common sense," McKesson said. "Why would anybody go onto the internet and agree to do something like spend their money or check to someone they don't know and never dealt with before? It's no guarantee it's a legitimate thing."

Even Craigslist warns about doing just that under a link marked "Scam." Once you click on it, it reads "Do not rent a house without seeing the interior or physically being there."

McKesson said just because you can see it on a computer screen, doesn't mean you can believe it.

"It could be someone selling a property they don't own, someone doesn't know what they're doing or you're dealing with an individual that's not a licensee," McKesson said. "They know that the people are out of town and going to be gone on vacation, and they decide to sell their house. They even show it, get their money and go!"

McKesson said going through a realtor or real estate agent may cost more money as opposed to buying from a private owner. He also said if that owner turns out not to be who they say they are, it could come back to bite you.

"I'd say it could cost you some money trying to save," McKesson said.

McKesson said another benefit in dealing with a realtor or agent is that they both have laws they're required to abide by. He said a realtor must even subscribe to a strict code of ethics.

If they violate them, they can be held accountable and even lose their license. If you deal privately and aren't happy with the outcome, there's no one to really hold them accountable.

The AG's office said they believe the recent homes fraudulently posted to Craigslist were actually houses for sale, taken from real estate web sites.

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