The rental industry is big business in the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry. Where there is a sea of money, prospective renters should beware of the scammers trolling those waters. In a personal search for a rental home, News 3’s Martin Staunton came across an alleged Craigslist scam. That started a weeks-long investigation, speaking directly with the targeted victim and the man accused of running the scam.
The home in question is a three-bedroom, two-bath home in Daffin Heights in Savannah. Recently, a rental sign on the property advertised it’s vacancy, but a sign in the window from the rental agent warned that the home was targeted by a scammer on Craigslist. Effingham County Realtor, Kathy Brantley with Heritage Properties, has handled the Savannah property for decades. She posted the sign. Brantley says it’s owned by her neighbor, Bloomingdale florist, Sandy Lincoln.
Brantley says red flags went up when she received call after call about her ad on Craigslist, but she says she never advertises on that internet site. Brantley was stunned when she saw the ad. “” With my pictures…my verbiage..everything…in their ad!” said Brantley. She went on to say it was clear to her that the ad was virtually a carbon-copy of her legitimate ad on her company’s website, except for a few changes. The false ad lowered the rent by $100 dollars and stated that utilities were included, for $800 a month. Brantley says it was bait to sweeten the scammer’s deal.
The actual email to a prospective renter, from someone calling himself Nikalas Foreman, explains his absence. Foreman’s correspondence states that he’s “on tour” in Alabama as part of a business project. The email claims the house would be available for two to three years. Brantley tells how the money was supposed to change hands. ” They would send him the deposit and he would send the key to them.” Brantley said. The veteran property agent says she took immediate action posting signs in the window of the property, as well as web warnings on her company’s site.
Brantley says no one actually lost money, but feels her calls to Craigslist fell on deaf ears. “I have tried to go to Craigslist, but that was only if you actually lost any money…you can’t file a claim with Craigslist until you’ve been scammed.” said Brantley. News 3 called the number provided by the Foreman, who actually returned the call, offended his ad was referred to as a scam.
Martin Staunton: WE’RE CALLING BECAUSE WE UNDERSTAND THAT YOU HAVE NO CONNECTION TO THE PROPERTY IN SAVANNAH THAT’S BEING POSTED FOR RENT…
Nikalas Foreman: “Well I just…why you saying I’m a scammer? Do you know…do you know I own the property?”
Martin Staunton: WE’RE TOLD YOU DO NOT OWN THE PROPERTY SIR…BY HERITAGE REALITY… AND CATHY BRANTLEY AND HER HUSBAND ASSURE ME THAT THEIR NEIGHBOR IN EFFINGHAM COUNTY OWNS THAT PROPERTY… SO CAN YOU PROVE THAT YOU OWN THE PROPERTY…WITH DEEDS, BANK LOANS, ANYTHING LIKE THAT?
Nikalas Foreman: Yeah, I can prove it to you. I own the property…
Martin Staunton: YOU CAN?..YOU CAN?
Nikalas Foreman: “I don’t even want to talk to you because I don’t see any reason why you should just call me…you could just call me and call me I’m a scammer… What’s..what’s sort of mixup is that?”
Foreman hung up shortly thereafter and no more calls were returned from the phone number, based out of Illinois. Tax records back Brantley. Her neighbor owns the house. The name Nikalas Foreman does not show up anywhere in the official records regarding property ownership. Bloomingdale florist Sandy Lincoln is the rightful owner and has been paying taxes on the propertey for years. Lincoln says this is a first in all the years she has rented her old house in Savannah, adding that this experience should serve as a warning to landlords and tennants alike. “Property owners need to be aware that this is a new thing…I haven’t heard of it before and that you know…to take notice that this is something else that um..people are preying on the unsuspecting…um..person.” said Lincoln.
Unsuspecting can mean out of luck for those who are taken in by a scam. News 3 crime expert, Jerry Long, is surprised the fake landlord called back, but says bringing Nikalas Foreman to justice could be a long wait for a train that is not coming. “You can attempt to pursue charges, ah, in truth, probably never will bear fruit…because you don’t know any of the information that has been provided to you will lead to the actual identity of the person that’s committed the scam or the deception.” Long said.
Brantley says no one lost money and Craigslist did take the ad down. She hopes renters and landlords pay attention to this story because you never know who can steal your ad on the internet. “How easy it is for people to be duped. But like I told somebody… if it sounds too good to be true..it is and we have, since this came up, put a warning on all our online ads about potential Craigslist scams.” said Brantley. Long advises anyone who has been victimized by this or any scam to contact the law enforcement agency in the place where the scam took place.