THE BUZZ 2: Sneak a Peak

By on October 4, 2017

Internet scam artists tell local house hunters to peek in windows of bogus rentals—then send money.

Looking for housing on Classifieds Jackson Hole Media? Don’t trust listings that don’t include a local number.

That’s what Cheryl Bar-or learned last week after a stranger called her claiming to have been scammed by an ad listing her property.

“They copied [my] ad verbatim except the email address and phone number,” Bar-or said.

Bar-or listed a one-bedroom apartment for rent on the classified website. She found tenants almost immediately—housing demand is high, supply is low.

Then, last week, she got a call from a man who had come across an identical ad for her property. The rent was lower than her original listing, and there was no phone number, just an email capture. Someone on the other end of the email address asked for first month’s rent and a security deposit, totaling $2,000.

The person, or bot, even told people to “look through the windows” of the property and then send the money.

Smelling a scam, the man looked up Bar-or’s address on Teton County’s GIS website. Sure enough, the ad he found was not the one she posted. He didn’t lose any money, but Bar-or says he’s not the only one to fall victim to the scam.

“We’ve spoken to several of these people,” she said

She even caught some on her property, trying to peek through the windows. Bar-or is unsure whether any respondents have actually spoken to a real human, or if all correspondence has happened via email.

She has since reported the ad to the sheriff’s office and the FBI. Sheriff dispatch has a report, but said the case is now the FBI’s problem. But they weren’t particularly surprised at they inquiry—they’ve seen this before.

Bar-or also reported the ad to KMTN, who she believed owned the classified site.

“They don’t say it’s their site, but they certainly infer that it is,” Bar-or said.

It isn’t.

The website doesn’t actually give any helpful information about who owns it. Jackson Hole Media is unaffiliated with KMTN or any local news outlet.

Still, Bar-or’s understanding was that the classified site was an online “Trash and Treasure.”

People trust that name, she said, and are more willing to disclose information.

“I would have never listed the property address,” Bar-or said, had she not trusted the site.

And that’s the most surprising part, Bar-or said: Not that this scam is happening— “Everyone in the country knows this stuff happens,” she said.

It’s that in a vulnerable market like Jackson’s, where supply is so low and demand is so high, someone (or something) is taking advantage of local rapport and desperation to fish for money.

But such scams aren’t new. Housing is just the newest market. Back in April, the sheriff’s department received a handful of calls from concerned locals who had received threatening messages from a social media app demanding money in exchange for their or their family members’ lives.

Someone claiming to be a local sheriff deputy called local numbers and demanded money in February, claiming there was a warrant out for their arrest for missing jury duty.

This spring, a woman wandered into PJH’s office looking for housing for her newly wed daughter. She claimed to have found a handful of ads that seemed suspicious: Asking too much for a deposit, first and last months’ rent, asking that the money be wired to an account rather than delivered in person. She didn’t trust them. No one thought much of it.

It seems she might have been onto something.

Sheriff dispatch admitted these things happen, and the best thing to do if you suspect something fishy is to report it.

Internet safety 101: Don’t’ give personal information away to strangers. Don’t trust someone who tells you to “peek through the windows,“ then wire cash.

The housing market is, indeed, a vulnerable one, and displaced renters are desperate to put a roof over their heads. But there are still precautions to take.

“Locals generally put their phone numbers in [the ad],” Bar-or said. “Without a phone number, that’s when you know it’s likely a bogus ad.”

The ad has since been taken down, but the perpetrator is still unknown. Bar-or just wants internet browsers to exercise caution.

“It’d be nice to let people in the community know that it’s happening,” she said. “The website is a tremendous community resource, but if someone is taken by one of these hacked ads the consequences for that person are serious.” PJH

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