I’ve seen a number of stories on the local evening news lately about scammers posing as homeowners on vacant properties and listing them on Craigslist for rent, and people actually paying the scammers rent and deposits. These reports all seem to have involved scammers that were able to get obtain keys to the property.
This morning my broker sent out an email warning us that scammers are also hijacking real property listings on Craigslist as well. It was not an hour later that I got a call from another agent asking me about one of my lease property listings.
It seems that a lady friend of this other agent was informed of a lease listing on Craigslist by another friend. The lady contacted the “owner” through Craigslist because it was a nice home, at a bargain basement price. The “owner” emailed her back (in very odd sounding English) that he worked for a local oil company and had been transferred to Africa. He explained that he and his family were unable to get an agent to help them before they left, and they had the keys and such with them. They are a “kind and honest” family looking for a kind and honest” tenant to take care of the home, and on and one, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah. You get the drift. Scamming 101.
The “owner” emailed the lady back the address. The email was signed with a name – which just happened to be the name currently on the tax rolls for the property, and asked her to fill out an “application”. She did fill it out and sent it back, but luckily her social security number was not of the things that was asked for! She also drove by the property, and saw my agency “For Lease” sign out front. She made a note on her response to the “owner” that she did not think that he could rent it on his own if it was listed with an agency. The “owner” of course wanted her to send the first months rent, plus deposit, to them in Africa in return for a FedEx of the keys to be sent to her via overnight express. She finally snapped a little and called her agent friend. Her agent friend looked up the address on the local MLS system and saw the real listing – at a much different price – and she called me.
I frantically searched Craigslist and could not find the scam listing. Nothing. Nada. Then I got copies of the emails from the scammer and they included the Craigslist ad URL address. Bingo! Vague location. Mine had a specific neighborhood, this one just had “Houston”. No address on the ad headline. Mine had the address. One photo . Mine had multiple photos. No property description. Mine had an extensive description of the property. That explains why I could not find the scam ad. No address, no specific neighborhood, and a price not even close to the real price. The only clue was the photo of the front of the property.
Not an hour after this, the National Association of Realtors also posted an article about this same issue, with a video of how to check for scam copies of ads. One problem, three of the four tips to check assumed that the address is being used in the ad. The fourth used Google search to search for the main property photo. No address is in the ad, so no hits, and the photo search does not work in Craigslist.
So what does all of this mean?
– Always use a licensed professional agent to help you. All properties listed by agents in the local Multiple List Service agree to compensate the tenants agents, so there is no cost to you. Many private for lease by owners will also do this as well. Not all of them of course, but many will. If you are still insisting on going it alone, then check the local MLS listing website to see if the same property is listed with an agent.
– Never, EVER send money to someone, especially overseas, in return for keys to a property. If in doubt – walk away.
– If a property price sounds like it’s too good to be true because it is so much less than anything else on the market, then it is NOT true!
Be smart! If you even have a hint of a scam, then it probably is a scam!