For all the incessant warnings about send-money-now, get-goods-later scams on Craigslist and other websites, online con artists just won’t quit.
So I learned as I shopped Craigslist on June 7 for a place to rent. One listing caught my eye, that of a fully furnished four-bedroom, two-story house in Belknap for $1,500 a month. The interior photos looked great. “WiFi and AT&T cable throughout the house. Sleeps 8-10 people comfortably,” the ad said.
I responded by e-mail and heard back from a “Pastor Patrick Bouldin,” who said he was beginning five years of missionary service in Nigeria and needed a renter. From his Hotmail account, he wanted to know more about me — and $2,500 up front.
One e-mail later, Bouldin told me I was pre-approved.
“You,” he wrote, “are the kind of tenant I’ve been looking and I want you to paste in his words as a good person responsible and trustworthy I can trust with all my heart, I promise to rent to you because no research award income and I know you’ll love the interior of the House when you move in.”
Having investigated scams for most of my career as a reporter, I didn’t take the pastor at his word. I ran a name check. Pastor Bouldin was impersonating lawyer Bouldin, or rather federal public defender Patrick Bouldin, who works in Louisville and owns the house I wanted to rent.
In early May, the real Bouldin used Craigslist to rent out his house for the week of the PGA golf tournament in August — for $5,000. “WiFi and AT&T cable throughout the house. Sleeps 8-10 people comfortably,” he wrote.
Bouldin was stoic when he took my phone call. As an attorney for criminal defendants, he said he sees cases of stolen identity regularly. Most people, he said, would recognize the fake house rental ad as a scam. The $1,500 a month, he added, “wouldn’t cover my mortgage.”
Reanna Smith-Hamblin of the Better Business Bureau in Louisville said the scam is “not new.”
“We have heard about this type of scam, about people posting other people’s properties on Craigslist, pretending it’s theirs and asking for money to be wired,” she said. “It looks very real. Our note to people would be not to wire money for something like this.”
A colleague at Louisville Public Media told me she had run into the same kind of fake Craigslist ad a few months earlier, also involving a house in Highlands. It goes to show that scammers who solicit money through junk faxes and through phony contest winnings emails are technologically nimble. And clever.
This story was reported by Louisville Public Media’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.