Somebody appears to have used Babylon Village's historic Conklin House as bait in a real estate scam, trustee Deborah Basile said last week.
Basile said a friend alerted her to a listing on the website apartments.com advertising the 280 Deer Park Ave. property, which the village uses as a museum and cultural center, as being close to the Long Island Rail Road, shopping and parking. That part happens to be true. The monthly rent of $2,400 is bogus.
The ad was taken down after Basile contacted the website, but at least four other websites, all but one showing exterior photographs of the property, also indicated it was available for rent last week.
"Beautiful Babylon apartment for rent. Parking available!" read the caption on a site called Rent Jungle, where the asking price was $2,300 a month. The 1803 house, once home to Nathaniel Conklin, a prominent early South Shore settler, was described as "Built in 1978, 6 Units 2 Stories."
Suffolk County police said the advertisements have the earmarks of a scam.
"We are seeing a number of rental scams going on," said Deputy Chief Kevin Fallon. One common one works like this, he said: "They don't have the right to rent it out, they don't own the rental property or home, yet they're telling people that they do. . . . People come in, give a security deposit -- one month, maybe two months of rent -- and then they find out the person they rented from had no authority to do it, and they can't locate that person."
Those cases appear to be on the rise, Fallon said, with scammers often taking advantage of vacant and foreclosed houses. Police last week responded to a similar case in Medford, he said. Mary E. Adams, a Century 21 real estate agent in Babylon Village, said she has encountered similar cases.
Basile said she was unable to reach the Maryland company that was the purported property manager listed on apartments.com. Basile said she has directed village workers making their rounds to take special notice "that a moving van doesn't appear in front of the house."
A spokeswoman for apartments.com emailed this statement: "Apartment.com's rigorous privacy policies prevent us from identifying the individual who listed this ad. We can confirm that it is no longer on the site and the poster will be blocked from future posts to the site."
Fallon's advice is to be skeptical of anyone who wants cash up front and to make sure anybody who claims to be a real estate agent actually has a real estate license. Above all, he said, "if something seems too good to be true, it probably is."