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Frank Gray

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Adrianna Priester and her son Brayden, 4, stand in front of a home they wanted to rent on Leesburg Road.

Scam ruins promise of dream home

If you’re the victim of an online scam, don’t expect anyone to come to your rescue.

In fact, police might even tell you that no crime has been committed.

So when it comes to the online world, the best anyone can do is to learn from other people’s experiences – such as that of Adrianna Priester.

Priester and her husband have been living in a two-bedroom apartment in a large house that’s been cut up into apartments.

Priester, though, wants a house with a yard for her kids, and a couple of months ago she found what she thought was the deal of her dreams. It was a two-bedroom ranch on Leesburg Road, with wood floors and a full basement. A washer and dryer even came with the house – all for only $500 a month.

Priester went to look at the house herself, then quickly contacted the person who had advertised the rental on Craigslist.

Yeah, the man said, he owned the house, but he was in Texas now, settling his father’s estate, and he wouldn’t be coming back to Fort Wayne. That’s why he was renting the place.

Priester asked a lot of questions, and the man had an answer for every one of Priester’s concerns. God even got into the conversation. The man blessed Priester and said he’d even consider entering a rent-to-own arrangement if she paid the rent on time for a year.

So on a recent Friday evening, Priester wired $1,000 to Duncanville, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. By Monday, she was told, a lawyer would bring by a lease for her to sign and a courier would deliver the keys to the house.

Monday came and there was no lawyer, no keys – and no $1,000 anymore.

Priester quickly realized she had been dealing with a criminal the whole time and he had scammed her. The man wasn’t in Texas. His phone number traced back to Georgia. He didn’t own the house. He had hijacked a local real estate agent’s legitimate online listing and created a fake ad, pictures and all, on Craigslist.

The entire Craigslist ad was a fraud.

It happens all the time, real estate agents will tell you.

Craigslist has warnings on its site – never wire money to anyone, only deal with people that you can meet in person, and don’t deal with owners who are far away or out of the country. But you have to click a link to read the warnings, and Priester didn’t see them.

Realizing she had been scammed, Priester called the police and filed a report by phone. When she followed up, though, she said she was told that because she had willingly wired money to the crook with the bogus ad, no crime had been committed.

I asked the police about that, and amazing as it sounds, that is the police department’s policy. Priester was scammed, but it is not a crime because she agreed to send someone her money.

Why did she agree to rent a home she hadn’t been inside of, and didn’t the request to wire someone money send up a big, red flag?

Regardless, getting Priester’s money back would be virtually impossible, and identifying the crook would be almost equally difficult.

At least Priester didn’t fall for an attempt by the same crook to fleece her further. On the Wednesday after she had wired the $1,000, a woman saying she was the wife of the owner called to say her husband had been in a bad car wreck while going to deliver the house keys to the courier. They needed money for surgery, and the women said that if Priester would send her another four months’ rent she’d give her two months free.

After all, the woman said, her husband was injured while trying to get the keys to her. Do the human thing and send them some money.

Priester didn’t bite.

But she is still looking for a nice house with a yard at a good price.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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