(CBS) — Authorities in McHenry County have warned residents about a housing scam that tricks would-be renters into sending money to rent a place that’s not even on the market.

WBBM’s Steve Miller reports it’s a scam where the scammers used to operate mostly in other countries.

“It is no longer just a foreign, overseas scam. It is now becoming a local situation, too,” said Heartland Realtor Organization CEO Jim Haisler.

Haisler said people in Illinois are now taking advantage of each other: running an ad – on Craigslist, for example – which touts low rent for a nice house.

The problem is, the house is really for sale, not for rent, and the scammer who runs the bogus rental ad has simply copied photos that are already online.

McHenry County sheriff’s officials have warned that the rental property scams recently surfaced in the area.

So why would anybody send money to hold the place, without even setting foot inside?

“They’re desperate for somewhere to live,” said Sue Miller, managing broker at Coldwell Banker Honig-Bell. “It just happens to be that the housing crisis has created an environment where people will do whatever it takes to get a house.”

Miller said, on a typical rental property in McHenry County, if it’s priced well and in good condition, “it is not uncommon for me to have 15-20 applicants.”

She said it’s a sign of the times.

“When they’re given that hope of, ‘Send the money, we’ll send you the keys,’ they do it,” she said.

Miller said authorities are aware of the scammers, but “I have not heard of anyone being caught.”

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