Good morning Lisa,
It appears that you very luckily escaped a common rental scam.
The way it works is: A Realtor lists a property for sale for her clients. It gets posted on various sites like Trulia and craigslist. Scammers see the house for sale and repost it as a rental at a very cheap price, creating a fraudulent e-mail address so that a would-be renter thinks he's corresponding with the real owner. (This also happens with For Sale By Owner Properties.)
The scammers say they're in Africa working with children and just want someone nice to look after their house for a while. Since they're away, they can't show you the house in person - however, if you send them the deposit, they'll send you the keys.
You send the deposit and ... No keys, because it's all a scam.
The property you're referring to above was one of those hit by scammers. I know, because it's listed by one of the agentsin the real estate office where I'm affiliated (Allen & Selig Realty, North Yarmouth ME). The owners were stunned to find lots of people driving up to the house and asking questions; some of those people were told to ignore the For Sale sign in front of the house - that it belonged on the property next door.
In any event, I just checked the MLS and found that the property is under contract - meaning it's about to be sold.
Several years ago my husband had a property management & leasing company but when real estate took a nose dive, he let it go. When all these scams started hitting, he re-opened his company under the name On the Spot Rental Management - http://www.onthespotrentals.com.
You can also reach him at 207 713 0674. When you work with a company that has a website and is locally based - especially one that's a member of a local Chamber of Commerce - you're pretty much guaranteed it's legitimate.
That's not to say there aren't rental deals out there with real people renting out their homes.... there are. (Which opens up a whole other set of questions: do those people know how to be landlords, do they know the laws, are they in foreclosure and will you be left having to move suddenly if the sheriff shows up with his yellow tape...)
Because these scams are so prevalent, I've started doing workshops on real estate fraud and scams, and have offered them in Bangor, Windham, Saco and Lewiston.
Linda Snyder, Associate Broker
Allen & Selig Realty
One Walnut Hill Commons
North Yarmouth ME
207 829 3339 (office)
207 740 2247 (cell)