How To Spot Fraudulent Posts

Identity thieves have increased their presence in the housing and rental markets making it even more important for potential homebuyers and renters to do due their diligence and know the warning signs of a scam.

The housing bubble caused many homes to be pushed into foreclosure and the owners into the rental market, and scammers are using a myriad of ways to steal personal information and money from unsuspecting victims. According to Raul Vargas, fraud operations manager for Identity Theft 911, many of the scams are occurring online.

Vargas explains that many of the scams involve an online post about an available property to rent and when someone is interested, the scammer sends a rental or lease agreement that requires a plethora of personal information like birth date, Social Security number and current address. Some even ask for bank account information to verify eligibility. The unsuspecting renter ends up giving up the information hoping

Some scammers post bogus properties online and target renters moving from another city or state.  “Everyone renting looks online to find a great price,” and the scammers know that, says Steve Weisman, a college professor at Bentley University and author of 50 Ways to Protect Your Identity in a Digital Age. Typically the fraudster will list a rental online with a market price far lower than others in the area. The listing will have a real address and photographs and the renter will be asked to either wire a deposit or send a money order to hold the rental. “The renter doesn’t get to see the place and the next thing they know they don’t have a place,” says Weisman. “It’s very easy to copy a listing and put up a phony one.”

Scam go both ways: People with a property to rent can also become victims. Weisman cites a popular scam that involves someone living outside the country agreeing to move into a rental unit sight unseen. The “renter” will even send a deposit of six months rent to ease any fear. A few weeks later, the scammer will call to back out of the agreement and tell the landlord to keep two months of the rent for the trouble and send the rest back.  The landlord cashes the check, sends the money back and a week later the check bounces. “Even though you waited a few days for the check to clear the bank doesn’t tell you that it’s only provisional credit. The bank takes back the money when the check truly does bounce,” says Weisman.

While scammers have become more sophisticated, renters and landlords can stay one step ahead.  Being aware of some red flags will prevent them from losing any money or sacrifice personal. According to Vargas, if the person asks for personal information via the Internet and/or asks you to send money via a money order or a wire transfer ,which isn’t easily traceable, should all serve as red flags. He also recommends never sharing personal information without meeting someone and checking their credentials.

Experts suggest out-of-town movers to work with a licensed agent to find a place to live. To verify if an online posting is legitimate, Weisman recommends searching the address and if it turns up on multiple sites with different names, there’s a strong change the listing is a scam listing. The tax assessor’s office can provide the homeowner’s name of the particular property and many of the offices have websites making it easier for renters to check public information. “Be wary if the place is dramatically priced less than others and always check out who the real owner is,” says Weisman.

The Big Bad Scary Landlord… or Are They?

You’ve been hearing it for years now. Talk about the economy’s inadequacy. After the housing market went, there was little hope for many of the other markets. The biggest concern is that when the economy is down, so are alot of people’s bank account balances. So what does this mean for you?

People have become increasingly desperate to keep their bank account balances up and be able to afford their lifestyles, whether that lifestyle includes drug use or just feeding their families and keeping them clothed. Scams have been on the rise and the people behind them are very creative.

Tammy was looking for a house to rent and was looking on craigslist and other classified ads. She found a beautiful looking home with her exact search criteria, in the perfect location AND it was at such a great price! She called the number and got in contact with Greg, who agreed to meet her at the property and trade the rent for the keys to the house. Sure enough, Tammy arrived at the house and Greg was there. He showed her inside the vacant house and Tammy loved the home. Greg said “You seem like such a nice woman — let’s not worry about writing up a lease agreement or credit report. I trust you.” Since Tammy’s credit was extremely low, she accepted immediately and handed Greg the $2,000 for rent and security deposit and he handed her the keys. Everything went so smoothly! But then something very odd happened. Greg took off with the money. Tammy thought this was very strange and called the number on the real estate sign posted in the front yard. “This home isn’t for rent,” the lady on the line explained, “it’s under contract to be sold as we speak!”

Greg, whos name probably wasn’t even Greg, knew this home was bank owned. He also knew the construction lock box code and accessed the key with no problem. So where did Tammy go wrong?

Some people swear against these classified ads and stay far away, but there are other, less extreme precautions to pick out if the rental property is a scam or not. 

1. Don’t give cash or wire money - Criminals don’t want you to be able to trace it back to them, so cold hard cash, being the most liquid of assets is usually what they ask for. The same goes for money orders. Don’t stop there!  You also want to avoid giving checks to someone who may be hustling bank account and routing numbers. Counterfeiters can print their own checks using your bank numbers and signature, then spend from your account. That’s why a combination of safeguards is necessary. Checks are safer than cash, but read on to ensure you’re giving those checks to legitimate landlords.

2. Research what the price really should be - If the rate is too good to be true, it probably is and if you aren’t working with a realtor to find your rental home, it isn’t as hard to check as you may think! Check out websites like rentBits, which will help guide you on pricing.  

3. Ask yourself, ‘Why is this owner so eager to have me?’ – Legitimate property owners and managers take the time to ask questions and screen potential tenants. They can’t risk renting to someone who might cause damage or fall behind on payments. Expect that they may take a small fee ($15-$35) with your application to pay for a background screening, or a deposit in the form of a cashier’s check to hold the apartment if they need to take it off the market for a day. Most will not even accept cash, saying they don’t want to risk holding cash. A cashier’s check at least requires identification to cash and can be traced.

A scam artist, on the other hand will often be eager to close the deal with cash on the spot, and may very well have a good story to tell about why he is in such a hurry: He is moving for a job; others have expressed an interest. Don’t fall for it.

4. Pay attention to any odd behavior

In Florida recently, a scam artist who appeared legitimate in every other way: she had business cards, contracts, key codes, a professional demeanor displayed one piece of odd behavior that alone should have tipped off her victims, police said: She parked her car around the corner and walked to the house, explaining that she’d been showing a nearby house.

Legitimate listing agents “don’t come walking up with a clipboard in their hand,” said Lee, the police investigator. They pull into the driveway.

“Just be aware,” he said. “Get a tag number off a vehicle. If a person walks up, like this one, from two blocks away, that should be a clue.”

“Do they have a set of keys? Are they entering through the back door? Just how they’re acting? Does the story make sense?” said Jesse Holland, a regional vice president for the Institute of Real Estate Management.

Just because a few things check out doesn’t make them legitimate. Like in our story, Tammy received the keys. Everything seemed more than fine. Observe their behavior, and trust your gut if something seems odd.

5. Collect documents – Ask for copies of everything: checks, money orders, the application, receipts, the lease.

“You want to create an audit trail and a paper trail to protect yourself,” said Holland, who also serves as president of Sunrise Management and Consulting, in upstate New York. “That proves that you are entitled to rent it and have gone through a legitimate process, as opposed to, ‘You give me $700 cash.’”

Be aware that a savvy scam artist can easily create his own documents using samples from the Web. So paperwork by itself is not enough to protect you. However, should another sign tip you off, your papers could help authorities prosecute the con artist.

 

We hope that none of you are caught in these messy scams. For more information, check online on websites such as rentalscams.org or wikihow.com.

 

Written by: Danielle Zampino