NAPLES — If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
In the wake of recent arrests of people charged with illegally renting and leasing foreclosed homes, the Collier County Sheriff's Office and Naples Area Board of Realtors are partnering to raise community awareness about rental scams so nobody becomes a victim.
Both agencies will take steps to warn the public to be wary of ads for rental homes or condominiums, but no further plans about the recent partnership geared toward educating the public were immediately released.
It's typical for the person behind the scam to post a notice on Craigslist, in local newspapers or on other social media sites advertising homes for rent, often using the legal owner's name in the return email address, according to a Sheriff's Office's statement.
David Spahl, a Collier sheriff's Organized Crime Bureau investigator, said deputies are being proactive about monitoring vacant properties and researching the Internet for suspicious advertisements.
Spahl said the majority of the scams discovered during the summer were posted on Craigslist and originated in Nigeria.
In the summer, there were at least 15 victims of foreclosed home rental scams.
"I'm reasonably certain there were more that we never learned about," Spahl said.
Spahl said the number of calls reporting potential scams has declined since mid-August.
"Be aware of it, so you don't become a victim," Spahl said. "If it seems too good to be true, it may be."
In the spring, one of the properties that Realtor Cheryl Poteet represented was used in an online rental scam.
Poteet, of Poteet Properties Inc., said the property information listed on the multiple listing service was copied off the listing and advertised on Craigslist as a rental for half the price.
Poteet said rental scams are happening all over the country and it's not only in properties that are on the market for sale, or distressed properties.
"The public may not be fully aware of how large of a problem this is," she said.
Poteet urged renters to be cautious about property ads on Craigslist.
"It's happening more often than we think," she said. "The more it is ignored, the more it continues to occur."
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To report a crime or suspicious activity, call the Sheriff's Office at 239-252-9300. To anonymously report a suspected crime, go to the Sheriff's Office at www.colliersheriff.org and under "How Do I?" click "Tip Us Off."
To remain anonymous and be eligible for a reward, contact Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers at 1-800-780-TIPS (8477).