ORLANDO, Fla., March 28, 2017 – Ready to rent a perfect apartment downtown or maybe buy that dream house? Finding the right place to call home takes time and can cause a range of emotions from excitement to anxiety – especially since Realtors® across Florida report seeing an increase in online listing scams.
“Unfortunately, criminals keep coming up with sophisticated schemes that target online rentals and property listing sites,” says Florida Realtors® 2017 President Maria Wells, broker-owner with Lifestyle Realty Group in Stuart. “Realtors must be aware that criminals are using their legitimate listings data to lure consumers to phony listings on internet portals. As the voice for real estate in Florida, Florida Realtors is committed to protecting consumers – we urge our members to use diligent efforts to help safeguard against these schemes and to encourage their clients to call their Realtor to verify any information.”
According to Florida Realtors General Counsel Margy Grant, federal and state authorities have tried to rid online marketplaces from scams involving bogus sales or rental listings, but they continue.
Here’s what happens in a common fraudulent scheme: Scammers visit rental property or homes for sale listing websites, “scrape” or steal the data, then reuse it in various ways that make them money. They may repost entire listings on sites like Craigslist with their own contact information, so when an unsuspecting consumer sends an email or calls about the property, they’re dealing with the scammer instead of the Realtor who legitimately represents the property.
“We urge consumers to double check all information about any property listing before sending any funds to anyone,” says Grant. “Criminals are creating extremely realistic listings, or stealing others’ listings, in an attempt to convince consumers to send deposits before they confirm the actual true listing agent. If a deal sounds too good to be true, if someone can’t show you the property in person because they’re out of state or out of the country, if they want you to send a deposit or first month’s rent via a wire service before you’ve seen the property or signed a lease, if they want all your personal financial information – these can be possible signs of listing scams.”
It’s a good idea to research the email address and phone number of the landlord, property owner or listing representative. Do a quick internet search and you may find alerts have already been posted about the individual – you may also find the property you’re interested in has duplicate listings with varying prices, different representatives and contact emails.
Report any rental scam to your local law enforcement agency and to the Federal Trade Commission, https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0079-rental-listing-scams. You can also file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx. Also contact the website where the ad or listing was posted.