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Scammers Preying on People Renting Homes for Inauguration Crowds

The online posting was just like the thousands of others advertising Washington-area homes for rent during next week's Inauguration: "Why stay in a hotel when you could stay in a luxury condo? ... Enjoy the ceremony and the crowds, then escape back to your own private getaway."

But the man who posted that message in hopes of making some money became the target of an elaborate money-making scheme himself.

"It was disappointing," said Scott Churilla, 31, of Bethesda, Md. "As soon as this happened I sort of wrote the whole [renting] thing off."

Early last month, he placed a message on the popular online classifieds site Craigslist, promising his Bethesda condo -- with its two queen-size beds, walk-in closet, 50-inch plasma TV, washer and dryer, balcony and two parking spots -- to anyone willing to pay $1,000 a night.

"Two bedrooms, two baths with spacious living room is a great place to call home during Inauguration week," the message said.

Someone expressed interest. In an e-mail on Dec. 11, a man named "Sade Thomas" -- describing himself as "a business personal here in the England [sic]" -- told Churilla that his daughter would like to rent the condo for three days over the Inauguration. Churilla responded with more details about the arrangement.

Several days later, a check for $4,550 arrived in Churilla's mailbox, apparently issued by Puget Sound Instrument Company in Washington state -- its name and address printed on the top left. The check's written value was more than Churilla had required.

Two days before Christmas, he received another e-mail, written in somewhat broken English: "The payment that was sent to you is in excess of the amount that was meant to be sent and this mistake was caused by my personal assistance, because he send both your funds and the travel agent in charge of my daughter's flight funds." The e-mail went on to say that the travel agent "requested" the excess funds be returned via Western Union, along with an e-mail detailing the "money transfer control number," the exact amount sent, and the sender's name and address.

That prompted Churilla -- yet to divulge any personal information to "Mr. Thomas" -- to call Pugent Sound Instrument Company. A representative told him the check was fake. In fact, an employee with the company told FOX News that the routing and account number on the check didn't match any real banking account.

Churilla's experience is not an isolated incident. According to the Pugent Sound Instrument employee, the company has received about 30 calls from people targeted by the same scheme.

The calls started in mid-December, and the employee thinks hundreds could've been targeted.

"It's pretty bad," the employee said.

The information gathered from the callers was passed on to local authorities.

Federal authorities, meanwhile, have not heard of any such schemes leading up to next week's Inauguration. One FBI official said these cases have yet to reach anyone's desk at the FBI.

But, the FBI official said, the agency takes note of any complaints it receives, and, "We will act on them accordingly."

As for Churilla, he said he's "mildly" amused by the whole experience.

"I'm just surprised that someone would think that would work, something this basic," he said. "The annoyance was worth the funny story."

And now on Inauguration Day, Churilla and his family might be watching the ceremonies from their condo. He never found anyone to rent it.