Recently someone copied one of my listings and placed an add on Craigslist using my listing. They advertised it for rent at half of the market value, and have been trying to collect deposits on it. We believe this thief to be on the West Coast somewhere from the phone number we obtained, but we are not sure if there is anything we can do to prosecute or even catch the criminal. Because of this, I am reposting this blog I previously wrote. If you are looking for a rental-be vary wary!
Recently there has been a growing and disturbing trend for criminals to use online scams to separate unwary people from their hard-earned money. While this is nothing new, their infiltration into into the real estate and rental commercial sites is a new trick to an old scam.
Recently in Tobyhanna, PA a broker had one of his rental listing hi-jacked by an internet scammer. The thief took his rental listing and relisted it at a lower price on the same site. In this case it was the Zillow site Hotpads used by renters seeking housing. Zillow is a very trusted site by consumers. The scammer created an email address using the actual brokers name and set up a fake phone number. Once contacted, the fake agent informed the potential buyer that he was overseas and would mail the keys if the renter would send him a check for $1,000. The thief even sent an application form via email to make the ruse seem more credible.
While these types of scams have been on Craigslist for years, people seem to be less on the defensive with real estate sites. Craigslist is almost notorious for people trying to take advantage of unsuspecting users in one way or another, and most people using it protect themselves accordingly. High profile realty sites for the most part have enjoyed a trusted status among users, which makes this type of con all the more threatening.
While real estate sales are tough to pull this type of sting on, rentals usually require very little paperwork and many are done without any professional assistance. If you are looking to rent and perusing online for a new home, please use caution. Consult a rental specialist you trust to help you find your home, investigate the property, and don’t send money off to someone you never met without doing your due diligence. Most of these operators are from overseas and there is very little the American Justice system can do.
The National Association of Realtors and Zillow are working hard to stay ahead of the cyper-space swindlers, but there will always be a new threat. Please use caution for any relationship you form online, and make sure you know who you are dealing with.
For more information on this incident please see http://www.inman.com/2013/05/02/sophisticated-zillow-scam-puts-nar-and-mls-on-alert/#