Miscreants stalking the real estate market with the latest real estate scam can be smart cookies.
They never stop finding deviant ways to strip housing market consumers of their hard earned cash.
Especially when the public and approaches to real estate marketing help make a real estate scam so easy.
This latest real estate scam reported by the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors is a spin on the old switcheroo.
One day, your friendly neighborhood real estate agent dutifully lists your home on Craigslist, ForRentByOwner.com, even Trulia.com or Apartments.com.
The next day you can find the same property "listed" online in a different ad as a "rental," according to the association.
Trouble is, the "rental" doesn't really exist as a rental. The "for sale" information has, however, been lifted for use in the "for rent" ad.
Used to be, the crooks would be too lazy to find a real home for rent or sale. Instead they'd lead dupes to occupied properties - after they'd collected a rental deposit or even months in rent.
With the new more sophisticated real estate scam, when people call about the home for rent, the charlatan tells them that the home is unavailable to show or can't be shown and proceeds to offer a rent they can't refuse.
Duped renters complete a fake rental application and provide personal, confidential information, including their Social Security numbers. Others go one step further and shell out a first month's deposit or more in the shake down.
That could be $2,000 or much more in today's hot housing and rental market.
Not only have they lost money, they've become a potential identity theft victim, which could cost them vastly more money than they shelled over in the scam.
Identity theft-related credit problems could cost even more money in the time it takes to clear up the problems. Meanwhile, access to credit - say to rent or buy a home - could be reduced or blocked until the credit problems are cleared.
"A lot of Realtors have been affected by this," commented Carl San Miguel, President of the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors.
"We want the real estate community and the general public to know it's a hoax. By creating awareness, we can hopefully reduce the number of people affected by the scam in the future," San Miguel.
Yeah, but…here's what's a little baffling, especially when it comes to Craigslist.com.
Along with the latest Craigslist-based real estate scam and previous real estate scams, Craigslist has been used to lure and kill victims, by prostitutes, by sex offenders, by those who want to lure and rob or otherwise harm victims, and worse, to use ads to prey on children.
It happens online elsewhere, but Craigslist is frequently in the news facing charges.
Keep in mind, yes, the vast majority of ads on Craigslist and the other sites are posted by upstanding, honest people just trying to make a buck.
But it only takes one to ruin your day. Just one.
Maybe it's time for the real estate industry to cut ties with Craigslist and other websites that don't police their ads or take action against violators.
Is an ad on Craigslist worth so much as a marketing tool that it's worth taking the risk?
Are there any real estate agents who actually boast about using Craigslist and boost their marketing prowess by using Craigslist?
With all the digital marketing available and the widespread awareness of what goes on Craigslist, why does the real estate industry really need to use Craigslist as a marketing tool?
Because it's free?
Real estate industry reponsibility
The real estate industry has a contractual mandate to market properties to the largest audience possible, but they also must protect clients and the clients' best interests.
In the name of transparency, are clients made aware their ad could be posted on Craigslist and that some Craigslist ads have led to crime?
Is that disclosure included in the marketing plan? It should be.
Are clients told they can opt out of certain marketing efforts? That applies to marketing anywhere. They should be.
The press release that prompted this story offers some tips to protect clients from Craigslist's and others' scams, but it says nothing about clients grilling the real estate agent about the marketing plans the clients pay for. Clients should add "where will you market my home" to those lists of "how to choose a real estate agent" tips.
Clients should ask, "What is the industry doing to curb fraudulent activity from the business end? Are you reporting to clients, before they begin marketing, which web sites have incidents of fraudulent ads taking consumers to the cleaners?"
Don't fall prey
In any event, the association says consumers that scammers hunt should be skeptical if they are:
Quoted a price that is too good to be true. Check the going rates online for the type of property being offered. Check for reports from RealFacts.com or other organizations that keep tabs on rents.
- Asked for a substantial deposit before the keys are handed over or the property has even been shown. Never contract for any real estate deal without seeing the property.
- Asked to wire money. Wiring money to strangers for any reasons is always fraught with risk.
- Receiving communication via email only and the person emailing is located elsewhere - out of town or even out of the country. If they are out of site, keep them out of mind.
- Check to see photos of any property officially listed on line, with an agent or MLSListings.com, then drive by the property to see if a For Sale sign is still there. Often, the for sale sign will go missing from the yard soon after a "for rent" ad goes up Craigslist or other Internet site.
Finally, the item that's not on this list:
- Ask your real estate agent about any fraud they are aware of when it comes to digital or other marketing. Don't accept a simple "yes" or "no." Ask, "How do you know or why don't you know. It's a tool you use every day."
A real estate transaction isn't small potatoes and some of your personal information goes with the deal. Let your agent know you have a right to opt out of any marketing you don't approve and that the agent has fiduciary duty to look out for your well being.