Marjorie Francime, a single mom of three, was looking for an affordable home that had enough space for her and her boys. When she came across a listing on Craigslist for a beautiful townhouse in Columbia, in her price range, she immediately reached out to the person who posted the ad.
The man, who identified himself as Joe Ciccarelli, said he was offering the house at a discounted rate because he had to move in a hurry and was looking for a good family to care for the place.
Francime sent Ciccarelli a picture of her family and let him know that her eldest son is a Marine currently serving in Syria.
"He said, 'That's exactly the family I'm looking for for my place,'" Francime said.
Because the owner had recently moved, he wasn't going to be able to show her around but he said she could go by the house and take a look from the outside. When she agreed to rent the home, he sent her a lease and requested several Walmart MoneyGram payments.
"Total, I paid $3,210," said Francime.
He said the keys were in the mail, but on move-in day they never arrived. So, the man told her to hire a locksmith. The locksmith requested a copy of the lease then gave her and her family entrance into the home.
Something didn't feel right.
"I still don't believe if it's the right place for us, I'm still telling my son. My son said, Mom, please, when God have something for you, God never give you something bad, he give us good stuff so just believe in God," Francime said.
They moved everything inside, then at around 11 p.m. that evening, there was a knock on the door.
"A young man answered the door. I said, 'Do you live here?' 'Yes.' 'When did you move in?' 'I moved in today.' 'Can I see a lease?' And he called up to his brother for the lease," said Joe Ciccarelli. "He said, 'Yah, I rented this place from a guy in Nevada, named Joe Ciccarelli.' And the officer turned around and pointed to me and said that's Mr. Ciccarelli right there and of course his face just drops at that point."
The real Joe Cicarrelli and a Howard County police officer broke it to Francime that she had been conned.
"I don't know, I just don't know what to say," said Francime.
"They took my ads from Zillow, copied it, including all the photos, my name, put it on Craigslist except he used his email address and his phone number," Ciccarelli said. "How many people has he leased this placed to? That's what bothers me."
Francime is out that money and can't yet afford a new place. The mystery man who violated her trust stopped responding to messages, but Francime has faith that her family will recover and thanks God for the kindness the real Joe Ciccarelli showed her.
"I thought like he was going to kick me out that night because I didn't have a place to sleep ... but he tell me he is going to let me spend the night. And we spent the night and the next day and he was a blessing, really. I am always thinking about it and God bless you for that," Francime said to Ciccarelli.
WMAR2 News' Mallory Sofastaii contacted the scammer. He also tried to rent her the home. When she asked to meet in-person, he kept coming up with excuses. Howard County Police are investigating this incident.
Avoid getting scammed:
- Look at property records. Confirm the person you're speaking with is the owner listed on records.
- Always check-out the house in-person.
- Google the address to see if the listing is posted on any other rental sites.
- Avoid using MoneyGram to send payments.