ANNAPOLIS, Md. — She had walked past the three-story historic home on King George Street in Annapolis dozens of times, and when she spotted it for lease on Craigslist, Lauren Rice couldn’t resist trying to land it.
“They had all kinds of additional photos of the house that matched,” said Rice. “Like if you walk by the house and look in the window, the floor plan matched. They were able to reference the fact that it was being painted, which I could see as I walked by it. The name of the person that I was corresponding with matched the name that somebody else gave me as the owner of the house.”
It wasn’t until she got ready to move in that Rice discovered she’d been had, and she’d already put down a deposit of more than $4,000.
“It was a final walk through of the house. I had already signed a lease agreement and a rental contract with them. They had given me a receipt for the funds that I had sent and we were supposed to decide on what furniture would go and stay,” recalled Rick, “and I knock on the door, and it’s some other gentlemen who said he was Airbnbing the place out and he was in from New York.”
Criminals have long used sites like Craigslist set up victims to take their money or merchandise, prompting the Annapolis Police Department to set aside a specially designated meet up spot in its parking lot for internet transactions, but that would do little to help the victim of a bogus lease.
“The only way to really prevent it from happening is just not do those things on line, to want to actually meet in person with the owner of the property that was leasing it,” said Cpl. David Stokes.
In this instance, the criminals also used the threat of COVID-19 and the danger of meeting in person to distance themselves from the victim and to better pull off their scheme.
“The reasoning they gave me as to why they wanted me to give them part of the deposit before meeting them in person at the house, which I requested that we do, was because their current tenants were uncomfortable with having someone come into the property with COVID,” said Rice. “And I wanted to be sensitive to that.”
Of course, Rice is out of her money and she’s left holding nothing more than a police report, but she’s hopeful that her story will help keep this from happening to anyone else.