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January 13, 2016 - 4:22pm

Real estate agent turns the tables on craigslist scammer

posted by Howard B. Owens in crime, batavia, John Gerace.


It's hard to find good houses for rent in Batavia and John Gerace, a local real estate agent, believes some guy in Nigeria found a nice little scam for himself to take advantage of that fact.

Since Gerace, in a manner of speaking, was a target of the scam, he decided to have a little fun last week at the scammer's expense. 

He posed as a prospective renter and went so far as to con the guy into thinking he sent him $700 via Western Union.

The scammer has been using Gerace's name with his fake rental listings on craigslist, and Gerace made no attempt to hide his identity in his e-mails, phone message or text messages.  

Still, the scammer persisted until he caught onto the ruse, then cut off communication with a Nigerian profanity and ditched his burner phone.

"They wouldn't be doing this if people weren't sending them money," Gerace sad.

Sadly, people probably are sending fake rental agents money, though Gerace has no direct knowledge of that happening, and law enforcement is largely powerless to do anything about it.  

It's one of the dangers of free online classifieds. It's easy for anybody to post anything, though craigslist does warn people not to wire money for housing rentals.

The Nigerian has been using Gerace's listings, all houses that are actually for sale, not for rent, as rental posts on craigslist. The scammer lifts the photos, property description and address out of the for-sale listing and posts them to craigslist. To help further entice the fish, he makes it sound like a great opportunity -- a below-market-value rent of $700, including utilities and pets are allowed.

The act was pretty sophisticated, too. The Nigerian e-mailed prospective renters an application and told a woeful tale of why he and his family needed to rent their beloved house in Batavia.

"I decided to rent out the property due to our transfer to (Black Creek, WI) on a Missionary Work by my church here, so we are renting it out since we need someone to take good care of the property on our absent," the Nigerian writes. "Don't be surprise if you find the home with another site and deference price, I have plan to rent it through Real estate before, but they are not serious simply because they have a lot of house to lease out and they added some money to the rent while there commission is not fair."

When Gerace posed as a potential renter, he told an even sadder tale to the Nigerian.

"I am very excited about the home you have for rent in Batavia located at 18 Oak St.," Gerace sent in a text message. "I have been looking for 3 months for a place for me and my 2 disabled children. My wife was killed in an auto accident when we were driving on the thruway and my 2 children were seriously injured and now need specialized treatments which can only be done here in Batavia by a very close medical center. This home is in a perfect location for us to seek treatments. I am a minister at our local church and I work 2 other jobs to pay all my bills. I am very clean and would take very good care of your home."

Gerace was incredulous that the Nigerian responded and continued with the scam.

So when an agreement was reached, Gerace told the man he sent, as instructed, the $700 via Western Union. He provided a fake transfer ID number. Over the next several hours, the man apparently made several trips to the Western Union office, exchanging messages about the missing money with Gerace along the way, before he realized he himself had been scammed.

The final message from the Nigerian was two words. Gerace translated it. It wasn't nice.

Throughout this ongoing scam, Gerace has been contacted by people who have seen the listings and either didn't realize they were fake or weren't quite sure.  

One home buyer -- Gerace represented the seller, not the buyer -- flew off the handle when his wife found the house they were purchasing for $225,000 in a craigslist listing under Gerace's name.

"He f-bombed me," Gerace said. "What are you doing trying to rent our place when we have an accepted purchase offer!"

Gerace explained it was a scam.

" 'Come on,' " he said, " '$700 a month on a 2,500-square-foot home, including utilities?' I said, "If it sounds too good to be true, it's too good to be true."

Gerace wanted to share his story in the off chance people might read it and get that message.

If it sounds too good to be true, it's too good to be true.


John Roach
John Roach's picture
Last seen: 3 months 4 days ago
Joined: May 29 2008 - 5:22am

Nice touch

Eric [Rick] von...
Eric [Rick] von kramer's picture
Last seen: 1 year 11 months ago
Joined: Oct 2 2010 - 6:23pm

Most of the scams and email scams share one thing, if you read them carefully, it is obvious that the scammer is not familiar with the English language. On craigslist, if a big item is for sale usually the price will be odd,, like $2015.00 that is a dead giveaway,, flag that many times if you respond to a CL add and get an email back that wants you to contact them thru your personal email flag it also most scammers use a Gmail account

RICHARD L. HALE's picture
Last seen: 2 years 9 months ago
Joined: May 22 2009 - 9:50pm

I do a lot of business on EBay and PayPal. I have received I don't know how many scams over the years. Eric is absolutely right, they slaughter the English language. Usually that's the biggest clue. Most of the time, the logos and the style of the e-mail are perfect. Very convincing for sure.
I always forward the e-mail to EBay/PayPal, so they are aware, and can investigate. But I have often thought of doing what John did. I know it would feel "good" to turn the tables on a scammer.
Sadly, there are people out there, that will do anything but work !!

Irene Will
Irene Will's picture
Last seen: 2 years 1 month ago
Joined: Feb 2 2009 - 2:01pm

Good JOB, Johnnie !!!!!!

tom hunt
tom hunt's picture
Last seen: 1 week 2 hours ago
Joined: Jan 31 2009 - 9:08am

I quite using Pay Pal because of the large volume of Phishing emails I was receiving. They try every method known to get you to give them your account information and passwords. Also once my E Bay account was hacked and before I could regain control of it, the hacker had posted an fictitious auction for an expensive photographic lens. I had to email the winner to tell them to not to send any money.

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