WALLA WALLA - A housing rental scam reportedly circulating through the community gives new meaning to the real estate mantra "location, location, location."
Instead of the location of the property, however, authorities are warning that the location consumers should be focusing on is where they find the listing and where the so-called property owner can be reached.
Walla Walla Police say scammers are copying photographs, names and information from properties legitimately posted for rent on local real estate websites, then relisting them on Craigslist and other spots.
They offer a telephone number but don't set up a voice message system, causing the potential "renter" to have to contact them via email.
That's how they end up finalizing an agreement that provides them with hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in security deposits and first/last months' rent.
"Unless you can actually meet the person who is renting the property, don't fall for this scam," said a press release from police spokesman Tim Bennett on Friday. "In a couple of instances, would-be renters have gone to the homes advertised only to find the home is occupied by the home owner."
He said email responses from the scammers are typically poorly written and may indicate the "owner" is on a humanitarian mission in another country.
The email also typically requests some kind of request for personal information, including family status or telephone number.
The scammer will request funds be wired. Once the money is sent, there is virtually no hope of retrieval, police said.
Since most such scams originate overseas, prosecution at the state or local levels is impossible.