One of the latest scams to hit the Internet has popped up in an unlikely place: the real estate market. If you're on the hunt for a new place to rent, or are trying to sell your home, then you could be one of these scammer's targets. Be careful.
A man in New Albany, Indiana, learned this the hard way. Shortly after listing his home for sale, homeowner John Darr began noticing some suspicious activity. People were pulling up to his house and looking around the property. Some were even coming up to his front porch, and peeking in through the windows.
He later realized what had happened. The details of his home listing were stolen by scammers, who then posted the property as a rental opportunity on Craigslist. The listing sounded too good to be true: A cozy three bedroom, two bathroom house for only $600 per month. And all the applicants had to do was send in their personal information, along with a security deposit.
Of course, Darr's home was not for rent. And, the listing to sell his home had been active for less than a week. He wasn't fully aware of what had happened until he received a strange message on Facebook.
"The message asked ... was I selling the house or was I renting the house, because she had some concerns that somebody was running a scam with my name," Darr explained.
It was then that he became aware of the fraudulent post on Craigslist, which made several false claims. One of which, was that the owners of the property were going to be leaving the country for 3-4 years on a mission trip. The scammer had even offered false contact information, and would correspond with interested applicants. Through this correspondence, the scammer was able to obtain personal information from the victims, and even make arrangements for money transfers.
In the past, hiring a real estate agent was something people only viewed necessary when buying or selling a home. But with the influx of real estate scams, an agent can be an essential asset even for individuals looking for rentals. They can fact-check listings you're interested in, and notify you of potential issues.
Even if you choose not to hire a real estate agent to help with your search, there are obvious signs to watch out for. If you find a property you're interested in, place the address into a Google search and see what results are generated. If the property pulls up on other sites listed for sale, then make note of that inconsistency. It's a red flag.
Another major clue is a rental property where you're unable to meet with the owner, or some type of property manager. If no one can meet you at the home for a tour, then there's probably something fishy about the listing in general. An extravagant story that explains why the owner will be away from the property is another sign. For a legitimate rental, you should never be asked to wire money to your new landlord - especially before you've had the chance to tour the property.
If you do find a property that you believe is listed as part of a scam, you can report it to law enforcement officials. You should also contact the website where you found the property so that the listing will be removed.