Special Report: Picture Perfect - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Special Report: Picture Perfect

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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

When you are searching for a home to buy, or even rent, you need to trust who you are dealing with.

If you use Craigslist, you never know what you will get. We found one couple who found what they thought was the perfect house at the perfect price.

They quickly realized it was almost the perfect scam. Craigslist, and other anonymous listing-based websites, really are a crap shoot. The couple clicked on the wrong ad but were lucky enough to wizened up where many have lost thousands of dollars before it was too late.

"We saw a really good deal for a two bedroom house for $595. Sounds too good to be true," Brian Hodge told WTOC.

Hodge and his wife wanted to find a house in Savannah before they got married, so they turned to Craigslist.

"When we contacted the owner in question, he claimed to be a family man who lived in Jersey who owned a second house and he can't trust anyone else and he can't trust any of the realtors. He said they weren't doing a good job, so he was selling it himself," Hodge said. "He also said he can't meet in person because, hey, he lives in New Jersey."

"This immediately sounded fishy to me," Hodge said.

It should. Across the country, the same scenario had been playing out with different victims and crooks with similar stories.

Mother of six Robin Ringo in Memphis used a real estate website called Zillow, found a house and sent a $400 security deposit to a man named Ramon Gomez via Western Union, but never heard back and never got a key to the house.

"I feel stupid for trusting somebody, and I thought I was doing the best thing for my kids and it wasn't," Ringo said.

In Albany, Georgia, Dr. Van Knowles was shocked when a woman showed him his self-listed house was also listed on Craigslist, by somebody else.

"I'd want anybody to check those listings before putting any money down," he said.

Jack and Wendy Harvill's Craigslist nightmare involved finding housing for their son in Shreveport, Louisianna. After $1,400 dollars in wire transfers, they never even saw the inside of the house they thought they were buying.

"It was just nuts. You never would have figured in a million years it would have been a scam," Harvill said.

Back in Savannah, Hodge said the alleged renter also wanted them to send money by  wire transfer  for a house, sight unseen.

"He was totally ok with just sending the key to this house. He never met us, didn't know what we were like, but was going to send a key to the house," he said.

So, Hodge went to the house and what's there? A real estate sign.

"Why does it have a realtor's sign if he's willing to sell himself," Hodge asked. "It's empty so it's being sold ,but not by this character."

"No question it's a scam," Fred Levine said.

Levine should know. His property listings were copied and cloned in Memphis by scammers.

"Oh, he probably has a stack of properties which have gone onto Craigslist and realtor.com in the last week and oh, these look like good ones to clone. There is an endless supply for them to choose from," Levine said.

"Unbeknownst to us, it was a scammer who had lifted a few pictures off of realtor sites off the internet where they made it seem like it was their place," Hodge told WTOC. "Definitely a sleazy scam, but sure enough, the ad on Craigslist is gone."

However, there are more out there. You need to be alert and careful. Watch for those warning signs. For more tips to prevent rental listing scams, visit here or here.

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