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Looking to Rent? Beware of Scams.
Dated: June 9 2020
At some point, everyone has encountered a scam. The lucky ones catch on before they lose too much time and even worse…their hard-earned money. Real estate is no exception. We recently had one of the homes we have listed for sale illegally listed on Craigslist for rent. We had heard about national and local real estate agencies and agents dealing with scams on their listings but this was the first time it happened to us. The scammer acted as the owner and listed the property for rent on Craigslist. Thanks to an inquisitive potential renter that called our office with questions, we were made aware of the Craigslist post and immediately reported it to the Owner, Craigslist and the Sheriff’s Department. We decided to take it a step further and sent an email expressing interest in renting the home. The scammer, using the name of the owner and a Gmail account that included parts of the owner’s name, replied back:
"Thanks for the interest you showed in my house, My initial plan was to sell out the property, but the realtor in-charge was not honest with the process at all cause of his selfish interest, so I am not working with the Realtor anymore and the keys are here with me, the for sale sign is still in the yard because am not in town but you have nothing to worry about, it will be taken off, that was why I decided to handle the rental process myself cause I need a serious tenant who is ready to move in.
The house is ready to be moved in as soon as possible, i decided to rent it out because of personal advice and we are going to spend more time here in TX, about 3 years due to my job promotion as the new general site manager, The address is ___, i want you to drive down to the house asap, you can peep through the window for better view of the inside cause the keys are here with me and make sure you look around so you can see how the property is been taken good care of, this is not all about the money at all but a good tenant who will take good care of the house cause that is part of the reason am doing this myself.
The rent is $920 and the security deposit is $1100 and I want you to know that payment will not be received until all paperwork are signed by both parties, please only interested and ready to move in tenant should get back to me all utilities are included except trash, pets are allowed but with a fee of $150, please I only need a serious tenant and no jokes please.“
The details were so convincing! The scammer even made sure to explain away the real estate sign in the yard. At this point, we put signs about the Craigslist scam at the house to warn any potential renters who might stop by to “peep through the windows”. We also filled out an application with fake information and sent it in to be considered. To our surprise the next day we received this approval email:
“Thanks so much for responding back to me. I have received your application and gone through it. I want to let you know your application has been approved and you are now accepted as our new tenant. Am glad you love the house. I need someone that will take good care of the property as if they own it, someone very neat, honest and most especially someone I can trust with my house, that is why I am handling the rental processes myself .... The next step is for you to sign the lease agreement, please provide me with the full name you want to be on the lease agreement so we can proceed. Also, I would like to know if you are going for just rent or rent to own?“
We questioned how we would receive the keys once the lease was signed and payment made:
“As I told you before I am not in town and the keys are here with me that was part of the reason I gave you the address of the house to go check it out and get back to me if you like it so we can proceed, I am looking for a good and serious tenant that is why I am handling the rental processes myself. This is not about the money at all but I need someone that will take good care of the property as if they own it, someone very neat, honest and most especially someone I can trust with my house, you make a partial payment to me here so I can overnight the keys to you via FedEx and get back to you with the FedEx receipt and tracking number for confirmation for you to get it the next day. Which is refundable after getting the keys and doing a proper walk through of the inside of the house and not liking it. And if you okay with the house then you balance up the payment when you move in, hope you understand”
The home ended up having a few visits from potential renters “peeping through the windows”. Thankfully, the owner had already moved out, the neighbors were made aware of the scam in case they saw people at the home and the signs we put at the house warning about the scam helped. The illegal post was finally removed from Craigslist after 4-days and several calls and emails from our office and the owner.
We decided to share this experience to make consumers aware of how convincing these scams are. Consumers need to be cautious and aware. Several popular sites, such as Craigslist and even Zillow do not require much, if any, verification of ownership or legitimacy to list properties or items for sale or rent and there is not much moderation or policing of the sites.
A few things to remember:
--If it sounds too good to be true, it is. This house was advertised for rent well below market value.
--Look for spelling or grammatical mistakes in emails or messages, overly detailed stories or excuses and the “owner” in these scams are typically out of state or out of the country.
--Be suspicious of no property address and limited photos. In this case, the scammer stole photos from our listing and used only a select few with no front photo.
--Do a reverse Google image search on the listing photos to make sure they are not stolen images.
--Even a scam can include factual information. The scammer obtained the owners name through online public records and used the owners name in communications so that in the event a savvy potential renter verified ownership it would match.
--Always speak with the Owner/Landlord on the phone, most scammers only want to communicate via email or text and are not available for phone conversations.
--Demand to visit and walk through the house before you sign any lease or send any money. A legitimate Owner/Landlord will have the keys with someone local if they are out of town and will be willing to show you the home or have a Property Manager, Realtor or someone local available to show it to you.
--Never give out any personal information, such as Social Security Information, bank account information, etc., until you have walked through the property in person and verified that the person or people you are dealing with are legitimate.
--Be suspicious of no screening or by the Owner/Landlord. The scammer did not check any of the information on our fake application before approving our application.
--Never send money to someone you do not know and always verify who you are sending it to.
--These scams are not limited to Craigslist or real estate. Watch for click bait in emails and on social media. Scammers send emails or messages pretending to be Amazon, PayPal, Netflix and in real estate transactions, they pretend to be the Realtor, closing attorney or Lender, to get an unknowing recipient to click on links in the emails or messages, share passwords or personal information or send money. These emails, messages and post are very convincing and often set up to look exactly like the company or person they are pretending to be.
In the past few days, the owner of the home contacted the Sheriff’s Department, the Better Business Bureau and a local news station. We are very thankful for that inquisitive potential Renter that took the extra step to call our office to verify a few details and to our client, the owner, that immediately took extra steps to try to ensure that no one was scammed. Unfortunately, these scams are becoming more common and more elaborate. We hope this helps show how realistic scams can be. Be aware of these scams and always take extra steps and precautions to protect yourself and your hard-earned money.
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