Barbara Birman, 80, walks outside with her dog, Merlin, on Tuesday. She is trying to sell her north Everett home, but someone keeps listing it in a Craigslist rental scam. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Craigslist rental scammers target north Everett home

EVERETT — After 30 years in her north Everett home, Barbara Birman decided it was time to downsize.

It took her the winter to make up her mind. She loves the two-bedroom along Grand Avenue overlooking Puget Sound, but it’s getting harder to keep up with the yard.

The house was listed three weeks ago Tuesday.

Within a couple of days, it was used in a scam on Craigslist, a classifieds website. Someone in another state, or more likely another country, stole the pictures from the listing and pretended to be Birman online, offering the house for rent.

A neighbor saw the ad and alerted Birman. The scammer sought a monthly rent of $1,200. That’s closer to the starting price of an upscale studio apartment around here. The neighbor also reported the ad and had it removed.

The next day, Birman was talking to a woman in a leasing office at a downtown apartment building. The woman recognized Birman’s address. She said she had seen that home in a rental ad on Craigslist and exchanged emails with the scammer. The woman shared the emails with Birman.

The situation was “making me uneasy,” Birman said. She contacted Everett police.

An officer told her the scam has been around for awhile. Earlier this year, a Mukilteo man lost $2,400 in a rental scam. In many scams, especially international ones, there isn’t much local law enforcement can do.

Other scams in Snohomish County in recent years have involved jury duty, dating sites, tax collection and lottery winnings. Another popular ruse is a scammer pretending to be a grandchild who needs bail.

After talking to the woman in the leasing office, Birman was headed home and saw two people at her house, walking on the porch and looking in the windows. “By then, I was freaked out,” she said. The unexpected visitors had seen the bogus ad.

Then a man from King County called. He found Birman’s real number after a phone call with the scammer, who he said had an accent that sounded African.

The scammer claimed to be moving to California for a new job and promised to put the keys in the mail upon receipt of the first month’s rent and a deposit, a total of $2,000. The scammer made several mentions of God and blessings.

“It’s really sick,” Birman said. “He goes on about himself and what a fine fellow he is.”

No one she talked to had sent the scammer any money.

It’s now been a week or two since anyone has mentioned the ad, and Birman hopes the scammers have moved on. She and the real estate agent put up a notice on the “For Sale” sign in her yard, making it clear the home is not for rent.

She hopes the house will sell this summer, but another year won’t hurt anything. A former teacher and librarian, she has book club and her volunteer work at the animal shelter. The waterfront view means sunshine in the summer and storms in the winter, and she loves the one small palm tree in the backyard.

Still, every time Birman sees someone in the yard, or hears footsteps on the gravel driveway, she can’t help but feel a little jolt of nervousness. She always wonders whether it’s a potential buyer or some poor soul who didn’t recognize a deal that was too good to be true.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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