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Ask 10 different people what they think about Craiglist, and you’re sure to get 10 distinctly different answers. For a college student hoping to cheaply furnish a first apartment, it can be a lifesaver. For a recently laid-off software engineer, it can be a fresh, new approach to finding work, especially when compared to wandering the often dreary  job fair circuit. For a working mom with multiple mouths to feed, it can be the perfect way to organize a garage sale that will generate some quick cash.

Unfortunately, it can also be a source of danger. For all the good it does for millions of people every day, it seems hardly a day goes by without the publication of at least one news story describing a Craigslist scam. One of the most recent warnings came from the Texas Association of Realtors.

In a press release issued on April 1st, TREC’s Standards and Enforcement Division warned the public about recent reports involving real estate brokerage scams in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. In these reports, victims claimed that a group of individuals and companies represented themselves as licensed real estate agents and brokers when they were not. They allegedly also performed property management services, such as accepting deposits and rent from tenants, yet withheld these funds from the property owners.

Other victims claim they were unknowingly employed by these same individuals and performed brokerage services on their behalf. Interestingly, these “employees” reported that they were hired through Craigslist as well.

In layman’s terms, this whole affair amounts to some scary, messy stuff. Even if you live in Alaska, it’s enough to give you goosebumps. Of course, if you live in the Lone Star State like we do, it hits a little bit closer to home. It’s the kind of scenario that could make you want to swear off Craigslist altogether.

Not so fast, though. The Craigslist Monster may be big and hairy and have sharp teeth, but that doesn’t mean you have to hide under your bed. Remember what Mom always did when you were a kid to make the monsters go away? Sometimes turning on the light is all you need to make a dark room a lot less scary.

Let’s try it, shall we? Here are a few tips to help take some of the bite out of that big, bad Craigslist Monster:

  • Be sure to use a real estate agent who is licensed with TREC (check the “Search licensee info/education” link on the home page of the TREC website to verify). Any such agent is required to follow the regulations outlined in The Real Estate License Act and the Rules of the Texas Real Estate Commission. Other states have similar organizations with laws that protect consumers as well.
  • Check out the “Avoid Scams and Fraud” link on Craigslist before you make contact with anyone you see on the website. Some very good information is provided there, including red flags for scams, examples of fraudulent ads and who to notify if you recognize a scam attempt.
  • If you suspect an agent has acted unethically and would like to file a complaint, visit the “Complaints/Consumer Info” link on the TREC website and follow the appropriate instructions.

I’d like to leave you with a German proverb I came across recently: “Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.” Think about it.

Take care of yourselves and each other, and remember…

NOW you have options!


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