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Craigslist rental scam involving Colorado residents exposed

PARKER, Colo. -- A Parker woman said for a brief period of time, she unknowingly worked for a fake rental scheme on Craigslist that scammed customers $350 at a time.

"We couldn't make good on any of the promises that (the company) made," Julie Jacobs said.

Now Jacobs is out to expose her former sister-in-law Ilissa Nelsen, who Jacobs says is the mastermind behind the operation. Jacobs says Nelsen  operates the business from her home in Phoenix.

The Arizona attorney general won't confirm if it's investigating Nelsen, but the FOX31 Problem Solvers have learned investigators have contacted victims of the scheme, which operates under ever-changing names such as Global Relocation,  Rental Specialists, Nationwide Rentals, Universal Rentals and Across Town Rentals.

"She just got me at a weak point. 'Come and work with me, I’m gonna show you the business. You can work from home. You’re going to make lots of money,'"  Jacobs remembers Nelsen telling her.

Instead, Jacobs said after a few weeks, she realized customers looking for a place to rent were getting nothing but frustration and no refund on their $350 holding fee.

Jacobs said Nelsen is careful not to target people in Arizona.

Instead, Jacobs said Nelsen will list Craigslist ads in other states she's familiar with such as Minnesota and Colorado, offering places to rent.

Jacobs said Nelsen uses Google phone numbers with local area codes to trick customers into thinking they're calling a local rental agent. Instead, Jacobs said the number is patched to Nelsen in Phoenix.

When the Problem Solvers called one of the ads, a female voice that Jacobs said she recognized as Nelsen's said she "guarantees a property with no background checks, no credit checks, no application fees."

If that sounds too good to be true, the ad also said pets are no problem, which is what hooked Katy Klimara in Thornton.

"There was red flags, but I was so desperate to find a place that allowed my pit bull to come live. So just desperate and let all the red flags slip by," Klimara said.

Klimara said she was emailed an application that mentioned a $350 "fully refundable" fee to hold the advertised property.

But to get the property address, Klimara was instructed to go to Walgreens and purchase a prepaid gift card with numbers on the back that she had to share with the female voice on the phone.

After Klimara did as told, she received an email, but the address was for a property in Sarasota, Fa., not Thornton.

"I have no idea how they can even sleep at night or live with themselves," Klimara said.

April Moore in Arvada lost $350  the same way Klimara did.

"I would say royally screwed," Moore said.

She was promised a move-in-ready house, but when she showed up at the given address, she found the Ralston Oak Apartments.  Moore soon learned the complex had no connection to Nationwide Rentals.

"When I called up for a refund, they claimed that somebody would call me the next day," Moore said.

That never happened and Jacobs said victims who reach customer service are directed to a voice in the Philippines telling them they signed a 90-day contract and to keep trying to find new addresses on future emails.

"Nobody gets a refund.  (Nelsen) has never given a refund," Jacobs said. "I know that (Nelsen) can have $20,000 to $25,000 months."

The Problem Solvers obtained a copy of a supposed letter of good standing from the Arizona Corporation Commission that customers are sometimes sent.

The letter is worthless when it comes to verifying the validity of Global Relocation, but it lists an Ilissa Gustafson as the statutory agent.

Julies Jacobs said Gustafson is the last name of one of Illisa's ex-husbands. The document is allegedly signed by Greg Schwartz, another ex-husband of Ilissa Nelsen.

Schwartz is Julie Jacobs' brother and she said her brother's electronic signature was forged.

"The business name doesn't mean anything because it's not registered anywhere," Jacobs said.

"She has no relationship with these properties, doesn't own any of these properties," said Norm Minkus, another ex-husband of Ilissa Nelsen.   "I mean, honestly, she probably should be in jail."

Just like Jacobs, Minkus has tried turning his ex-wife into every  law enforcement agency he can think of, including the IRS.  He's convinced she doesn't report any income from Craigslist.

"Everybody seems to be saying its somebody else's responsibility and the worst part is people are continually getting ripped off," Minkus said.

Phoenix affiliate KSAZ Fox 10 interviewed Minkus and contacted the Arizona Attorney General's Office. An investigator with the attorney general's office called Jacobs for her list of victims.

"To know that she is in another state is such a coward move, like total coward.  I can't believe she can even sleep at night, let alone feed her children with that money knowing that she stole it," Moore said.

A message was left for Nelsen on her personal cellphone but it was not returned.

The Arizona Attorney General's Office won't confirm pending investigations, but anyone who has been scammed by a similar operation is encouraged to file a complaint with the FBI.