I-Team: CT woman gets identity stolen in rental scam, how to spot them

A CT woman had her identity stolen in a rental scam. The I-Team shows how to spot them.
Published: May. 1, 2023 at 10:53 AM EDT|Updated: May. 4, 2023 at 10:07 AM EDT
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(WFSB) - The search for the right rental apartment or home is already stressful, but even more so when con artists may be trying to take advantage of your desperation.

That’s what happened to one Connecticut woman.

A 3 bed, 3 bath in West Suffield seemed like the perfect rental for Jennifer Pawlak.

She found it on Craigslist, $1500 a month.

“Of course I thought that was, it was a bargain, and you go for it,” says Pawlak.

After connecting with the poster, Pawlak was asked to fill out an application.

“Everything about me, my license, my social, my taxes, the whole nine yards,” said Pawlak.

Shortly after she sent the paperwork back .. “they tried to open up a credit card under my name, like that weekend. I had my identity stolen,” says Pawlak. “My credit is frozen for a year.”

The I-Team found the same home Pawlak was trying to rent on Craigslist, for sale on Zillow.

“You don’t want to look anymore because you don’t know whose real, whose fake and I don’t know - it’s hard, it’s really hard,” says Pawlak.

The realtor for the home tells us, Pawlak had not been speaking with the real property owner.

It’s something John Zubretsky, a realtor with Century 21 AllPoints - The Zubretsky Group, say is all too common.

“That’s where a lot of these red flags scams start. they take a vacant house that’s for sale, impersonate the landlord and post it for rent and hope that people send them a deposit,” says Pawlak.

He says, in his opinion, you’re better off staying away from Craigslist in the first place.

“For sure Craigslist is probably the leading source of rental scams,” says Zubretsky. “This morning i went on and out of 25 rentals I saw in the Greater Hartford area, I identified 15 of them as definite scams.”

So how can you spot a scam?

Zubretsky says if the price seems too cheap, that’s usually the first sign.

“Price wise, if it’s too good to be true, stay away,” says Zubretsky.

Zubretsky also advises never send money without first touring the property, and avoid using apps like Venmo or PayPal.

Pawlak was even asked to use a prepaid card at one point.

As for filling out an application before touring a place? Just don’t give too much information away.

“If they ask for your name, your current address; things that are public knowledge anyway, how many people would be living there, do you have any pets, do you smoke? things like that are okay to say,” says Zubretsky. “But driver’s license numbers, social security numbers and any personal information can be avoided.”

That advice could have saved Pawlak.

But she says, as she continues on her search, she’s gotten better at spotting red flags.

“When you have friends and family who say it’s too good to be true, listen to them. Go on Facebook, go on Google, do your research,” says Pawlak.

All things she’s now paying attention too, and hopes you’ll do the same.

“Like even if you’re in a time of need, don’t try to be as vulnerable as you want to be because you need something,” says Pawlak.

Something else? You yourself can search property records.

In the case of the West Suffield rental, the person Pawlak was speaking to used a different name than the one listed in town records.

But still be careful, scammers have access to the same property records, so do as much diligence as you can.

As always, you can report any suspicious activity to police and you can also flag a post on Craigslist.