It might be the boldest variation yet on what's becoming a classic Craigslist scam. A woman in western Missouri is accused of bilking at least six families out of thousands in rent and deposits on a house that she pretended to own, promising each that they'd be the sole occupants when she moved out this fall. Amanda S. Paris, 44, of Independence (pictured above) was arrested and charged Tuesday with six felony counts of "stealing by deceit," reports The Kansas City Star.
On Monday, Paris had been the subject of a local TV station's "Problem Solvers" news segment (see the video below). In it one of the renters whom she'd allegedly victimized through a Craigslist classified ad was interviewed, along with the actual owner of the home in Blue Springs, who had been renting it out to Paris. Danielle Niccoli told WDAF-TV in Kansas City that she expected to move into the home with her husband and their five children in September, and that Paris told them "she was the owner" and "was moving to Omaha, because she got a job and needed to rent the house out while she was away." The home's owner, Jamie Stidham, told the station that when Paris began renting the house from him in June, her deposit check for $3,000 bounced, though she eventually came up with the payment.
It might have been at the expense of her alleged victims. When the Niccolis arrived to move in after paying her $1,250, Paris was still occupying it and wouldn't answer the Niccolis telephone calls or text messages, WDAF said. Though Paris reportedly told the station that she'd changed her mind about moving and promised to return the money, that apparently didn't happen, and Blue Springs Police eventually learned of five other families who'd purportedly been swindled by Paris. The Blue Springs Examiner quoted police as saying that Paris took the payments -- totaling nearly $10,000 -- between Aug. 7 and Sept. 8, and that they are seeking other possible victims in the case.
There have been several other similar reports that have recently made news, including those of a family of five who were stung by a fraudulent Craigslist ad for a house renting in Riverside, Calif.; an alleged con man who used the name of an employee at a legitimate real estate company while showing a New Orleans home to renters; and scammers who reportedly collected rent from a family in St. Louis for months on a home going through foreclosure (after changing its locks and forging ownership papers).
Despite those reports, and warnings from authorities about how far scammers will go to make the bait in these con games look both legitimate and irresistible, the swindle continues to find victims, perhaps aided by an increasing number of renters in the housing market and a rise in rents. Some common red flags, authorities say, are requests for money before a deal is confirmed and claims by a purported landlord or property representative that they're unable to meet with renters because they are out of town or otherwise unavailable. In the case of Amanda S. Paris, the Niccolis apparently did not get a contract from her or were even given a key to the house.
AOL Real Estate's guide on avoiding Craigslist rental scams also recommends being on the alert for:
1. A deal that sounds too good to be true. It probably isn't true, so compare listings to gain insight into the market rate. (And if the name of a legitimate real estate company or agent is used, contact that company to authenticate it and the person placing the ad.)
2. The bait-and-switch. Finding out that an apartment you were interested in has, when you arrive to see it, already been rented -- but another is available at a higher price.
3. Requests for deposit funds to be wired. Don't send checks or wire money to people whom you don't know.
More about rental scams:
Homeless Man Allegedly Rents Out Vacant, Foreclosed Home
5 Tip-Offs To A Rental Scam
Renters Beware: Fraudsters Still Lurking on Craigslist
More on AOL Real Estate:
Find homes for rent.
Find out how to calculate mortgage payments.
Find homes for sale in your area.
Find foreclosures in your area.
Follow us on Twitter at @AOLRealEstate or connect with AOL Real Estate on Facebook.