Earlier this month, a neighbor approached Joyce Culver to ask whether her Greenport home was available to rent. A New York City resident who owns a second home on the East End, Ms. Culver told the woman it was available as a summer rental. The neighbor then said a friend who was interested in renting had seen the house on Craigslist.
Ms. Culver was taken aback. She had never listed the home on Craigslist.
As Ms. Culver soon found out, her neighbor’s friend wasn’t the only one to come across the house on Craigslist, a free website for classified advertisements. Last week, after reading the police blotter in the June 16 Suffolk Times, Ms. Culver learned that a couple in their 20s had been bilked of $1,500 by someone who created a fake advertisement using her name and photos. The police item noted that the house was on Washington Avenue. Ms. Culver knew it was likely hers.
“I called the police and [an officer] said ‘Yes, there is a second report here,’ ” she said.
It was the second documented incident where the advertisement was reported to Southold Town police as a scam and the first where someone lost money. Ms. Culver said at least three people, including those who filed police reports, responded to the ad, which ran from May 31 until June 8.
“The idea that somebody is preying on naive people makes me outraged,” she said. “The perpetrator found me, the owner, and used my name to answer inquiries.”
The couple sent the money to a Bank of America account in Cicero, Ill., Ms. Culver said. After the money arrived there, they never heard from the person again.
Ms. Culver reviewed an email the scammer had sent to her neighbor’s friend about the house. The email was sent by [email protected] and was written in a tone that struck her as odd, saying the homeowner would be away for five years or more.
“We are renting out our property for the first time and wish we find God’s favor in doing this,” the email said.
The scammer used Ms. Culver’s name at the end.
“I should talk to [the scammers] and say you’ve got to get a better line,” Ms. Culver said.
Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said there is no shortage of ways people try to scam unsuspecting residents.
“We see these types of crimes on a regular basis, and it appears that the plots are only limited by the imagination of the people involved,” he said. “We’ve had orders placed and delivered to houses for sale and the packages picked up by the perpetrator, a number of phone scams, fictitious callers/warehouses/award companies, the list goes on.”
After looking at the police report, Ms. Culver said she called the man who lost the money.
“I said, ‘I’m the real Joyce Culver and I want to know what happened here,’ ” she said. “He said his girlfriend got excited and sent in the money and didn’t do her due diligence. That’s what they bank on.”
Ms. Culver has lived in the small two-bedroom house, which is a short walk from the village, for 11 years. A photographer, artist and teacher, she decided to rent the house this summer for extra money. She listed it with a local realtor and it appeared on numerous real estate websites.
Now, after finding herself thrust into the middle of the scam, she hopes other people can take steps to avoid finding themselves in a similar situation.
“People who are looking for rentals need to be extremely aware that if they look on Craigslist, it may not be a real rental,” she said.
She said she has since learned never to give an exact address when listing a home for rent. She also warns anyone posting a rental to avoid using photos if possible. Most of all, for a prospective renter, if a deal seems too good to be true, it likely is.
Photo Caption: Apartment and housing rentals currently listed for Greenport on Craigslist. (Credit: Craigslist/screenshot)