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Maine real estate groups warn of rental scam

Real estate groups in Maine warned Friday of a rental scam that is going on around the greater Portland area.

PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Real estate groups in Maine warned Friday of a rental scam that is going on around the greater Portland area.

An e-mail warning from the Greater Portland Board of Realtors is below:

The e-mail warns that scammers are offering "rentals" on Craigslist, even featuring the agent's photos taken from online listing sites. The scammers collect a security deposit, send a fake lease, and collect the first month's rent. Then, the "lister," or scammer, virtually disappear, taking a person's money with them.

Misty Moffitt-Cox, who lives in Bangor, recently rented out her current place to move to a home she found on Craigslist for rent.

Moffitt-Cox contacted the supposed landlord, Georgia Clifford, by e-mail. They never spoke on the phone or in person, but e-mailed back and forth nearly 60 times. Moffitt-Cox said that Clifford provided a number of reasons why she could not speak by phone. Moffitt-Cox eventually sent $1200 to the person she said was managing Clifford's finances, Eddie Clifford, through a money transfer. Moffitt-Cox said after that, she never heard from Clifford again.

"I'm hurt. I'm very hurt, because she put my entire family on the street," said Moffitt-Cox.

Moffitt-Cox said she needed to get into the Portland home by May 8 to be close to where she was going to school.

Moffitt-Cox tried searching the property on the internet, but the Craigslist post was gone. She contacted Eric Flynn, owner and broker of Excellence Realty, who had the home listed on his website.

"It was actually one of our properties that was for sale and under contract," said Flynn. "The scams are popping up all over the real estate industry."

Flynn said scammers tend to delete the posting as soon as they get the money from a victim, making it more difficult for authorities to track them down.

"They vanish into thin air. They're gone in cyberspace," said Flynn.

The Maine Association of Realtors warned on Facebook too, warning that the sellers of the home may be wrongfully blamed:

The Maine Association of Realtors did not report the scam happening in any other areas of Maine at this time.

Craigslist has a series of suggestions about how to avoid scams here.

The FBI has an Internet Crime Complaint Center, where people can report suspected internet crimes or scams here.

This story will be updated.

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