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Families lose money in Craigslist home rental scam | News

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Families lose money in Craigslist home rental scam
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MARYVILLE - The Blount County Sheriff's Office is investigating what they're calling a "rental scam," after four families reported being schemed out of thousands of dollars.

Each family reported that they had signed leases and given rent money to somene who claimed owning a house on Old Chilhowee Road in Seymour.

"There are 15 acres here, and we can put up anything that we needed to," said Spencer Skinner, one of the home renters. He runs Guardian Angels Pit Bull rescue, which means he often takes in animals.

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"Now, because of the scam, we have to start from scratch," he added.

All the deals were based on Craigslist transactions.

10News contacted all the families involved. Three responded to an ad involving the house.

The Skinners said they were contacted by the supposed owner, after putting a "housing wanted" request on the website.

The Skinners lived in the house for three days, getting a house key from the ad contact. Then, a surprise guest stopped by: the actual homeowner, Jonathan Matthews.

"First thing they asked was, 'Can I help you?' Matthews said. "I said, 'Yeah, you can help me. What are you doing here?"

The homeowner lives in Florida, and is trying to sell the house. Matthews believes the person who made the false lease agreements lived in the house, after he felt sorry for her and allowed her to stay for a few days with the promise she would make the purchase.

That's why she had a key to give to Skinner.

"Found out the people we rented from were not the actual homeowners," Skinner said. "The actual homeowner came up and told us we had to re-home because we had no actual rights to be there."

The Sheriff's Office is investigating four apparent victim families, but while 10News was near the house, a fifth family claimed they were also renters. They reported a similar story - responding to a Craigslist ad featuring the house's picture.

"(She) said there was something wrong with the skylights and we had to wait to get in," said the wife of the fifth family. She asked not to be identified.

10News made multiple attempts to contact the woman. A phone recording said the person was unavailable.

"This has been a huge letdown to think we had a perfect place for our rescue," Skinner said. He now lives with his wife's family, as they try and find a new place for their family and their dogs.

"Devastating, depressing..." he added.


Craiglist Warnings

10News contacted Craigslist for tips to make sure customers are not scammed. They responded with these recommendations:

  • Deal locally, face-to-face. Follow this one rule and avoid 99 percent of scam attempts.
  • Do not extend payment to anyone you have not met in person.
  • Beware offers involving shipping. Deal with locals you can meet in person.
  • Never wire funds (e.g. Western Union). Anyone who asks you to is a scammer.
  • Don't accept cashier/certified checks or money orders. Banks cash fakes, then hold you responsible.
  • Transactions are between users only; no third party provides a "guarantee".
  • Never give out financial information (ie. bank account, Social Security, PayPal account, etc).
  • Do not rent or purchase sight-unseen. That amazing "deal" may not exist.
  • Refuse background/credit checks until you have met landlord/employer in person.


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