Lois Lane and the Craigslist fake landlord scam

Graham Cluley
Graham Cluley
@[email protected]

I read an interesting story last night about a woman who was trying to sell her house in Cleveland, Ohio.

Sharon Smith hired a real estate agent to advertise her house for sale and, as is normal these days, photographs were taken and posted online for potential buyers to peruse. But it seems what homeowners have to beware of is that criminals may also be checking out the properties that are up for grabs, in the hope that they can use the details in a money-making scam.

The scam worked like this. A criminal, found the details of Sharon Smith’s property on the estate agent’s website and swiped the photographs. He then posted a message on the popular Craigslist website, listing the property as available for rental.

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When people responded to the rental ad, the scammer emailed back calling himself “Dr Jack Fred”, saying that he had just got a job in Nigeria, but that he would send the house keys as soon as he was wired a $600 deposit.

Fortunately, in this case, the person who responded to the advertisement, drove past the property and seeing the realtor’s “For Sale” sign realised something odd was going on. Contacted the estate agent they confirmed that the property wasn’t for rent at all from a Dr Jack Fred, but definitely for sale from a Ms Sharon Smith.

Sharon did the right thing and contacted the Cleveland Better Business Bureau, as she was concerned about the scam. A BBB employer investigating the case posed as a potential renter using the made-up address of “Lois Lane” and giving her place of work as the “Daily Planet” when she contacted the mysterious Dr Fred.

The phantom doctor is apparently not up to speed with his superheroes, as he failed to spot the references to Superman, and continued to try and extract cash.

This story would be quite comic (groan..) if there weren’t people falling every day for scams like this, and wiring money overseas without thinking.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

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