Online housing scams are persistent. After years of news reports alerting consumers to never wire money to rent a home they’ve seen only in photos online, they still do. News reports of families now homeless after being scammed out of a deposit are not only still prevalent but increasing, law enforcement agencies say.
“More needs to be done to protect people from online housing scams,” says Jessica Perry, association executive of the Greater Manchester/Nashua Board of REALTORS®. “At least once a month we receive a call from a frustrated member who has experienced some sort of Internet scam involving their property listings,” she says. “They have contacted the MLS, Federal Trade Commission, Internet Crime Complaint Center, and the proper authorities, but they really feel that they have no effective recourse to address the issue.”
There countless ways that scammers and con artists (many based outside of the United States) try to cheat people when it comes to homes and property.
The most common property scam involves scammers taking legitimate property listings along with photos from websites including realtor.com® and Trulia and reposting them on sites such as Craigslist for rent or for sale at a much lower price. Scammers will typically make up a plausible story that requires the consumer to wire or mail them money without ever meeting in person. The problem comes when all the renters try to move in and discover the property was never the landlord’s to rent in the first place. Other swindles occur when the scammer rents a house or apartment with the intention of re-renting it to dozens of people.
Many REALTOR® associations use social media to alert members when a scam is spotted in the area. Other associations, including New Orleans and Toledo, post information on their websites for members and consumers, educating them about how the most common scams operate. The National Association of REALTORS® has a video (realtor.org/videos/how-to-protect-your-property-listings-from-rental-scams) that walks members through setting up technology tools (including Google Alerts) to proactively track listings and protect photos from being lifted.
For more information on housing scams, visit https://www.usa.gov/housing-scams#item-211837.