ASHLAND — In what appears to be a new twist on Nigerian scams, someone is offering Ashland homes for rent at very reasonable prices. The only problem is, the would-be landlord doesn't own the homes.
Bogus "for-rent" ads on Craigslist are netting the international culprits personal information and possibly cash from their victims.
Leslie Lovett, 64, and her husband, Richard, 69, own two properties in Ashland's Railroad District. Rental ads have been placed on Craigslist for both properties, offering extremely low rates, about 60 percent of what they actually rent for, to entice hopeful tenants with a good deal.
The technique is new. The police aren't sure exactly how the scammer is managing the complex scheme, but it's happening in other jurisdictions, too, said Ashland police Lt. Corey Falls.
To help convince his victims the rental offers are legitimate, the con artist created at least three e-mail addresses in Richard Lovett's name and signed the e-mails as Lovett. He then represented himself in phone conversations as the homeowner.
The Lovetts thought the deception had ended in April, when their son contacted the man through e-mail and let him know his scam had been uncovered.
But in May, the Lovetts' homes on Fourth Street surfaced on Craigslist again, even though they'd already rented out the houses. The false Richard Lovett claims to be on a Christian religious mission with his wife in Nigeria and says he has the keys with him there because he could not trust anyone else to show and rent out the homes.
He tells potential renters that after they send him a deposit, which varies from $700 to $1,000, he will express mail them the key and rental agreement. He says he is acting on good faith that the new renters will take care of the house in his absence, he said.
Leslie Lovett said after she posted warnings on Craigslist about the scam, she heard from at least eight people who had been in contact with the bogus landlord. Several already had sent him personal information, including full name, date of birth, current and past residences and employers.