WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis. - In a popular time of year for apartment hunting, an area woman is urging prospective renters to think twice before putting any money down.
Katlyn Matos Batista is helping her friends find a new place to stay. They’ve been searching for weeks, and a recent listing on Craigslist really caught their eye.
“It’s been really difficult looking here in the Dells,” Matos Batista said. "It's really high demand. Everyone is looking at the moment."
From the outside looking in, it seemed too good to be true.
"It was perfect,” she said. "It was saying about $700 a month, accepts dogs."
But the closer Matos Batista looked, the more red flags were waving.
"It was a Florida number,” she said. "He basically emailed back saying, 'Well, you know, I don't really have much details about the house, but if there's a for sale sign outside, ignore it, imagine it's not there.'"
Matos Batista isn't one to ignore signs.
"After that, we got really suspicious,” she said. “It was, like, this is kind of odd."
Her suspicions grew when the man calling himself Michael told her she'd never be able to get inside his listed rental property.
"He basically said, 'Just go peek in the window,'” Matos Batista said. “That's when it was, like, OK, something's not right."
"If they're not going to let you in the house, that's a big red flag,” said Lara Sutherlin, the administrator of trade and consumer protection within the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
Sutherlin said everything Matos Batista noticed were classic red flags, and potential renters should always verify the online lister actually owns the property. They can check this website.
"You want to Google some of the catch phrases to see if the scam artist has done multiple Craigslist ads that are identical, showing you this is somebody behind the computer sending out the same ad to see if they can get fish on the line,” she said.
Sutherlin said oftentimes, scammers demand money upfront or repost listings of homes for sale pretending they're for rent. Matos Batista encountered both of those things.
"He was very demanding. He was, like, ‘Oh, I need this $50 application fee,’” she said. "He literally took everything from the website. The pictures, the address, everything."
Matos Batista took matters into her own hands, calling "Michael" out. She said the ad is now gone, but it's left her with a lesson she’d like to pass along to others.
"We're not gonna be giving out our credit card number, that's for sure,” she said.
Sutherlin said this type of scam can go the opposite way for those listing their property for rent. She said they’ll want to make sure to verify the identity of prospective renters, as well.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story indicated residents could go to the courthouse to determine who owns a piece of property. This is not the case in Dane County.
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