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Craigslist rental scam hits close to home for Fargo homeowners

Jayne and Kenneth Fuhrman were surprised to learn that their home, which is for sale, was listed on Craigslist as available for rent in an effort to rob someone of a deposit. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

The latest Craigslist scam landed right on Jayne and Kenneth Fuhrman's front steps - literally.

The couple's south Fargo home has been for sale since June, but on Monday a man in his 30s knocked on the door, asking if theirs was the house advertised for rent on Craigslist.

Flabbergasted, Jayne Fuhrman, a retired teacher, jumped online and found their green rambler listed under Craigslist's apartments and housing section.

"There it was, our home, pictures of our living room, the family room, bedroom, kitchen, and all this information to contact this person," she said.

Accompanying the photos was a word-for-word description taken from their online sale listing.

"It just killed me," Fuhrman said.

She called their real estate agent, Stephanie Sarabakhsh, who had already received three calls about the house that day.

She also e-mailed "Greg Larson," the Craigslist user who posted the ad and claimed to own the house the couple built 15 years ago when they retired to Fargo for health reasons.

"How dare you rent my house," she wrote to him.

Tuesday morning, she received an e-mail response from Larson. To her disbelief, it was the letter he apparently was using to try to convince people to wire him a $700 deposit to rent the house.

In the letter, Larson claims that he and his wife "acquired" the property immediately after marrying. He considered selling the house and even got a real estate agent, but then his wife advised against it. He explains the house is no longer for sale - despite the "for sale" sign in the front yard - and that he's now in India for an international Christian conference.

Wednesday, two women arrived at the Fuhrmans' door holding the letter.

"They said, 'This isn't real, is it?' I said, 'No, this is a scam,' " Fuhrman said.

By Thursday afternoon, Sarabakhsh said she had answered at least 15 phone calls about the house in the past two days.

A couple of the callers had received e-mails about the house supposedly for rent, and many were concerned because they knew it was on the market, she said, adding that the $700 rent was too low for a house listed for sale at $240,000.

"It was kind of nice to see everybody calling and concerned for the homeowners," Sarabakhsh said.

A similar scam surfaced here a couple of years ago, said Sarabakhsh, who was trying to get the ad removed from Craigslist.

Scammers copy photos and descriptions of homes for sale from myriad websites that carry Multiple Listing Service information, she said.

"That's going to happen in this day and age, unfortunately," she said.

Jayne Fuhrman reported the scam to police Thursday morning. She said she was told there's nothing police can do because no crime was committed.

Sgt. Mark Lykken said it's the first time he's heard of this particular scam, though police are seeing a rise in Craigslist scams.

He cautioned people to think twice before responding to requests to wire money for property or services because it's often impossible to trace such payments, especially those sent overseas.

"If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," he said.

The Fuhrmans were thankful they didn't lose money in the scam, but the experience of being scam targets and worrying about strangers coming to their door stressed the septuagenarians.

"It's just the thought that someone can invade you like that," Jayne said. "It's pretty scary."