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Rental Scams - The Latest in Online Fraud

written by: •edited by: Bill Bunter•updated: 1/28/2011

Overseas scammers are copying online real estate listings onto other sites and pretending to own the property in order to steal deposit fees and other money from prospective renters.

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    Rental Scam

    It’s one thing when somebody tries to rip you off, but what about when somebody tries to rip off your potential customer? The latest scam being run on the Internet involves people overseas copying real estate listings to other websites, then swindling prospective renters or buyers out of deposit fees and other money. It’s currently being called the rental scam.

    What is the rental scam?

    Suppose you are renting a house or an office and put a listing on your local newspaper’s website or in some kind of online classified advertisement. It’s a common thing to do, right? What’s happening with the rental scam is people are literally copying your listing and putting it on other sites, then asking for less money to entice customers to respond. When somebody inquires about the property, they will fill out an application and then be required to pay a deposit or even be asked to pay a few months rent up front. The scammer then takes the money and runs, and only later will you find out that it was never their property to rent or sell in the first place.

    How it works.

    The scammer is located somewhere overseas, and they browse sites in other countries to steal the real estate listings. It only takes a right-click and ‘Save As’ to copy images off a website, and all the rest of the listing information can be copied and pasted just as quickly. Whenever the prospective customer asks about the property, the scammer claims that they have moved overseas and are trying to handle the business of renting from there. This is their excuse for not having anyone available to actually show you the inside of the property. In some cases, the scammers will register an email address similar to the legitimate real estate company, but use a free email site like Hotmail or Gmail.

    How to identify the rental scam.

    Your first clue will be that the seller is from overseas. Isn’t it odd that that this seller could not find one single local person to assist them with the sale? Another thing is if their asking price seems much lower than anything else around there. They use the low price to entice customers. Finally, the notion of sending several months of payment to some overseas address without even having the keys in hand should set off red flags.

    If a property is for sale or rent, then it will most likely have a realtor’s name and/or phone number on a sign near it. If you are suspicious, double-check the actual sign at the property location with the information found on the website listing where you discovered the property.

    What to do if you discover this scam.

    I’d recommend you call the realtor and alert them to the fraudulent web listing, then let them handle it from there. If you are a realtor, one thing that can help prevent this scam is to use some kind of watermark or stamp on all of your photos in order to make it difficult for anyone to use those same pictures elsewhere.

    Currently, ABCNews.com is running a story about someone who just recently became the victim of this scam.