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What is a RENTAL SCAM?
Scammers may advertise a rental property that they do not own, that is vacant, and may be a bona fide MLS listing or may be a FSBO. Their game is to collect deposit and first month’s rent (or more) from as many unsuspecting consumers as possible and then disappear.

Scammers may have researched the name of the property owner on the county auditor’s website and created an email account that looks like it belongs to the seller. Scammers offer an attractive “deal:” low rent, utilities included, pets allowed, mowing and landscaping included, etc. They may claim that the sales agent was dishonest or doing such a poor job that he has decided to just rent the property directly on his own, and interested parties may just look in the windows and send a hefty security deposit and first month’s rent, and then the scammer will “send the keys.”

Often scammers claim to live out of state and are elderly or ill, making it difficult for them to show the house in person. Scammers may ask for credit card info or bank transfer for payment and may mention a discount if you pay the first 6 months in advance.

Some scammers use Craig’s List or Facebook Marketplace, using the listing photo.

If you or your client may be a victim of a real estate scam, contact the police at once, the Attorney General’s Scam Unit, and the FBI. Law enforcement authorities will ask for copies of e-mails from the scammer, including full headers, so save all correspondence and if you know how to take a screen shot, or photograph using your phone, do so! Scammers can disappear quickly, so quick action on your part is important!

Some Ways to Protect Your Client (and You!) from Scammers:

  • Enter each of your listing addresses as a Google Alert. This may seem time consuming, but it’s worth it in the long run. Google will send you an email if it finds one of your queries in its search results.
  • If you find your listing is inaccurately posted on Zillow or Trulia as a rental, simply click the "report problem" tab under the listing details page and e-mail the staff right away.

Who Ya Gonna Call?
If you discover one of your listings is being scammed, your first call should be to your Seller. After that, report scams to:

  • POLICE: 614-645-4545
  • SCAM UNIT, Office of Ohio Attorney General: 800-282-0515
  • FBI Cyber Crime Unit (IC3): https://www.ic3.gov/complaint/splash.aspx
  • Add a sign in the yard next to the property’s FOR SALE sign, to prevent potential victims from believing the house is for rent, with wording similar to this:

“NOT FOR RENT - IF YOU FOUND ON (name of website) YOU ARE BEING SCAMMED - If you lost $ call: POLICE: 645-4545, Scam Unit: 1-800-282-0515”

Other Steps to Take: 

Be sure to include the URL (10-digit post ID number) in your message.

For more information on avoiding scams on Craig’s List go to: https://www.craigslist.org/about/scams

  • Facebook Marketplace – If the scam is still listed on fb Marketplace, report the scammer to fb by going to the seller’s profile, which can be found at the bottom of the product profile. Tap on the “Seller info” section and click on “Report.” Facebook will review the case. Questions? Go to https://www.facebook.com/help/196126404168290/?ref=u2u
  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – Call 1-877-FTC-HELP or go to https://www.ftc.gov/ and click on “Live Chat” or file online. Although the FTC does not resolve individual consumer complaints, it does use the data to track patterns of wrong-doing and can help with investigations and prosecutions. More info about rental scams is available at: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0079-rental-listing-scams

Scam Baiting?
“Scambaiting” is replying to a scam email and pretending to be a naïve consumer who is ready to do what they are asking. The thinking is that wasting these criminals’ time is a form of vigilante justice: it keeps them busy with you, the counter-scammer, frustrates them, and takes up their time so that they have less time to scam someone new. Further, the counter-scammer may be able to get more information to report to law enforcement authorities. There is an entertaining TED talk about Scambaiting, but it doesn’t address the fact that scammers are genuine criminals, and therefore it could be dangerous to try to match wits with them.

 

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