Unfortunately, in this high tech day and age, scams surrounding real estate and rental properties are at an all time high. The bad guys are watching, they know that if you’re in the home buying or selling frame of mind, you’ve probably got some money. And they want it.
Wire Fraud is a billion dollar a year scam. There are so many twists and turns to this but here is the main one that we’ve been fighting for years in the industry.
You and your Realtor find “the one”. Emails go back and forth about your potential deal which is what the scammers are waiting to see. How do they know? If a Realtor is using a typical unsecured email system…or you are…like Yahoo, Hotmail or AOL, that scammer is already sitting in that email box just waiting for the right terms to come up. Once they see things like “make an offer” “earnest money” and so on, they’re watching every move you are making.
When it gets to the point where you’ll be making your earnest money deposit, scammers jump into action by sending an email that looks legitimate from your title/escrow or attorney. It will be the “wiring instructions” but it’s the fake instructions. OR if you’re the seller, they’ll jump in when it comes time for you to get the wire with your proceeds. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been lost in a single transaction.
With the tech we have, we are now seeing scammers texting buyers to “venmo” their deposits (or other similar apps). They’ll even call you – because that’s what we tell you to do. A phone call is pretty legitimate, right?
How do we fight this? Personally, you will only get escrow/title information via a text or just an old fashioned phone call. No email. I’ll ask you to keep that information handy (put it in your phone) and then ask you to call them to “meet them”, find out who on their team might be calling and keeping those names handy as well.
CRAIGSLIST SCAMS (And Facebook Marketplace and Zillow and…)
There’s nothing that makes my skin crawl more than seeing one of my listings – either for sale or for rent – on Craigslist. We don’t, as a rule, put ANYTHING on Craigslist. Every day, I take some time to scan our listings section to see if anything of ours has been posted. Then, before I flag it, I ask friends via social media to help me flag it. I’ve been know to alter my sign (below) to alert folks who come by: “If you saw this home on Craigslist, please call us immediately at 575-635-8185. We DO NOT advertise on Craigslist. It is a scam listing.”
How does it work? Scammers troll Realtor.com, Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor websites to grab photos and the property description. They then post to Craigslist, Facebook marketplace and other free ad sites. When you contact them, you’ll get a sob story on why they can’t show you the home personally. It ranges from being out of town for a job/ill relative/other unexpected issues. It will usually play to your emotions. In order to get the keys, they’ll ask that you wire the deposit and the first months rent. If you do that, you should just kiss your money good bye.
**NEVER EVER wire anything to anyone without physically meeting the homeowner or the property manager. EVER.
**Drive by the home if you have an address. Is there a Realtor sign outside? The scammer will probably give you some excuse not to contact them such as “my Realtor is a pain in the butt”. Ignore that and call the number on the sign. PLEASE.
**Google the address if you have it, or copy/past part of the property description into Google. Scammers will sometimes use the description from our listings.
**If it sounds too good to be true, it is. I recently reported a scam listing for a home in a pricy part of Las Cruces – a 3 bed, 2 bath, 1700sf home for $450/month.
**Call a Realtor or a property manager to see if they can help you verify the listing. I am glad to do a little research for you. I’ve got extra tools that you might not have.
**Check the tax records for the owner and compare it to who might reply to the email you’ve probably already sent.
What can you do? First, I love this sign and it goes in every single visible from the street window. (Hat tip to the San Diego Association of Realtors)
Create some kind of warning sign. Create a google alert for the address, although it might not pick up everything. Scammers tend to not include addresses.
Talk to your local MLS about being able to “brand” the photos you upload with “Not For Rent” somewhere that can’t be cropped out or erased.
Scan Craigslist and Facebook daily and report/flag any fraudulent listings you find. Yes. I mean this. Take the time to protect your listings and your clients.
Talk about it on social media, your websites. Ask your association to issue warnings through all media. Ask your broker/owners to include a front page warning on their websites as well.