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ConsumerWatch: Renters Getting Burned By New Online Apartment Rental Scam

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) - A major real estate website is taking steps to stop an apartment rental scam that targets young professionals searching for nice places to live. will now post advisories on all its rental ads warning about scamming tactics. It will also require more identifying information from individuals posting apartment rentals.

Blake Bakken of San Francisco fell prey to the scammers. Earlier this month, the graphic designer responded to an ad on Trulia for a one-bedroom apartment listed at $1,800 a month.

When Bakken inquired about it, he was told he had to wire a $1,300 deposit to hold the apartment. He was also told it was unavailable for viewing because a couple was honeymooning there.

After Bakken wired the money, the "landlord" asked for more funds, and Bakken realized he'd been had.

"You put your faith in the world, and it just gets taken away," Baken said.

Realtor Paul Hwang of Skybox Realty said it's a new version of an old scam.

"It used to be a Craigslist scam and now it's coming to other property websites," Hwang told ConsumerWatch.

Hwang said scammers are lifting photos from "real" for-sale listings and creating fake ads for rentals, at below market rents.

 Hwang said that two weeks ago, scammers lifted on-line photos of a luxury unit that he owns and rents and doctored up a phony ad listing it for $3,400 a month. Hwang said it currently rents for more than twice that amount.

On Wednesday morning, a ConsumerWatch producer anonymously responded to an ad on for a 2-bedroom unit in San Francisco for just $2,000 a month.

Within minutes, she received an email from a Christopher Gilberto, saying the apartment was unavailable for viewing because a couple was honeymooning there. An email that arrived a few minutes later, provided instructions to wire $2,000 "directly to the landlord."

Further on-ine searching revealed the photos in the ad were identical to those in a for-sale posting in the same building. A realtor handling the sale told ConsumerWatch the apartment would "never" rent for $2,000.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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