Check out my recent appearance on Bay News 9 talking about rental fraud and wire fraud and how to avoid becoming a victim.
TIPS TO AVOID FRAUD:
- Don’t shop for rentals on Craigslist – and even Zillow is becoming sketchy – anywhere that allows owners to hand type in rental listings could be potentially a fraudulent listing. Use a realtor or property management service. Realtor.com is generally safe because it’s fed directly from the MLS system.
- If the price seems too good to be true, there’s probably a reason.
- Make sure the owner or landlord IS who they say they are. Ask for ID if you have to.
- If they say they are out of the country or cannot meet you in person and to wire money for security deposit – RUN. Red flag!
- For wires in real estate transactions – if you have received emailed wiring instructions, always CALL the title company (look up their number on the web, do not call the number printed on the instructions you received) and verify that the account and routing numbers are correct. It could be a spoofed email and you do not want your funds ending up in an offshore bank account of a thief.
- Turn on 2 factor authentication on all your email accounts, business and personal. All major email providers have this option, Gmail, Yahoo, etc. It sends a text message to your cell phone when you login to your email from an unknown computer and helps prevent hackers from gaining access to your email and spoofing things like wiring instructions and bank accounts.
- If you’ve been a victim of wire fraud, call your bank and the FBI.
AL: Joining me right now, Liane Jamason, which means we’re going to be talking about real estate and listen, if you’re a renter, you need to listen to what we’re talking about today because there’s a lot of fraud – renting fraud, wire fraud that’s going on. And Liane, you know about this because you’re in the business. So let’s just talk about generally what happened to you because you have a specific example of one of your listings.
LIANE: Yeah, so there’s a lot of rental fraud going on. I always tell people, don’t look at Craigslist for rentals because it’s probably the worst place, but we’re seeing it a little bit on Zillow now too. Um, I had a rental listing in South Tampa that was $3,000 a month and a hacker stole the photos, re-posted it on Craigslist for $1200 a month and spoofed the owner’s name, looked up her name in public record and created a fake gmail account with her name so it looked legit. And, um, basically told everybody who inquired on it, Hey, I’m out of town. If you want it, I’ll send you the keys, if you wire me your security deposit and I had someone call me and say that she had done so when she was crying on the phone with me and said, you know, I lost my first, last and security, so it was like $5,000 dollars.
AL: My Gosh. Now this happens a lot. Give me some of the statistics that we were really looking at. How often they happen renders on the age of 30: 1 in 10 renders say they have lost money in a rental scam.
LIANE: Yeah, this is happening a lot. It actually just happened to a girlfriend of mine. She saw listing in the Old Northeast in St Petersburg this week and she said, “Can you look at this? It seems too good to be true.” And I looked it up and it was actually a for sale listing. I called the other realtor and said, hey, somebody’s got your listing on craigslist for a ridiculously low amount, and the guy did try to scam her
AL: Now does does Craigslist, do they have the ability to go and look at these listings or do they get… I mean…
LIANE: No, not really. They just kind of publish everything.
AL: Yeah. And it happens this way. So walk me through then how that happened in Largo where we had a couple, they’ve rented out this house 18 times, you know, we’re talking $25,000 was lost. This happened about six to eight months ago. So how are they able to verify that they are the owners of is and, and why do renters automatically assume and jump in? Is it because, wow, if I don’t jump in then my rent’s going to go up?
LIANE: Well, I think they think that the rental market is just as hot as the real estate market and there’s not much out there. So these renters are seeing a listing that seems too good to be true for the price and the owner makes or the “owner” makes it seem very convincing. Oh, I’m out of town right now. Go ahead and wire me or security deposit. And people just get so excited about it. They trust them and do it. So you know that’s a red flag if they say, Oh, I’m out of town, or I’m out of the country, that’s a big red flag.
AL: I can maybe understand craigslist again because they don’t have time to verify. But zillow?
LIANE: Yeah. So another example, I had a client who I sold their home and they wanted to move into a rental for a year while they figured out where they wanted to be and he saw listing on Zillow and sent it to me and I was communicating with the “owner” who didn’t know I was a realtor and when I started inquiring about what real estate company they were with and they said, “oh, we don’t think this house is for you.”
AL: Wait – they knew something was up?!
LIANE: Yeah. They knew something was up and I was asking a lot of questions.
AL: Now is this likely to happen more with what I would call the “by owners” when people are trying to do this on their own?
LIANE: Yeah. Yeah, I think so. And it’s just not the right place to look for a rental.
AL: So who are the bad players, do we have any idea? Are they people in the country?
LIANE: I think a lot of them are out of the country. It’s an, you know, an offshore bank account that can’t be traced. And once that money is wired, it’s gone.
AL: Why would you wire money anyway?
LIANE: You know, for real estate transactions, wires are common, um, you know, for buying and selling but for renting, not as much. Um, but people again, they’re too trusting and, and maybe they see the owners real name and the email address and they assume it’s who, that they say they are.
AL: What recourse do you have as a renter or a buyer if this has happened to you?
LIANE: You know, I don’t, I don’t know that there is a whole lot. I would call the police definitely and see if there’s some division they can report it to for Internet crimes. But, um, you know, when it happened to me, and this was several years ago when it happened, they really said we can’t help you. There’s not much we can do.
AL: And do you work for a large firm, Smith and associates? Do they have training for you in terms of here’s what you look out and here’s how you protect? Because here’s what I would say that if you have a real estate agent, don’t agents protect me from that happening?
LIANE: Yes. Yes. I mean that’s a good way to go about it is use a real estate agent. Look on the more reputable sites like realtor.com, which is fed from our mls system. You’re much more likely to have, you know, real rental or go through a property management company.
AL: Because doesn’t this often also happened with titles? Even though even though you have title insurance, I saw somebody who bought a house recently that they had title insurance on the title insurance. What is, where that?
LIANE: I, I’m not sure on that one, but I did have somebody attempt to hack a closing of mine. Um, they sent my title agent and email and they had created an email address that was one letter off from mine. Somehow they knew the buyer’s name, the seller’s name, the property address. So I don’t know if they hacked my email or someone else’s email, but wasn’t mine because mine’s very secure and I have a two level authentication on mine, but uh, they send an email to the title agent saying here’s where we’re going to wire the funds after closing. And she said the only reason she caught it was the salutation with something different than I would normally say. And it made her look a little more closely at the email.
AL: Uh, when we were looking at these statistics and we got the one in 10 and then 43 percent of renters have encountered fraudulent listings. So we’re talking about half the people. Almost half. I mean that’s, you know, do you think of fraud, you don’t think of it and being that wide spread or is this all the way? Is it, is it the more common in the South East is a more common in the north?
LIANE: I’m not sure, but we are seeing it certainly a lot here. It’s something you really have to watch out for and go through a reputable company and make or make sure you meet the owner in person, maybe look at their driver’s license, make sure that the names match up.
AL: Is there any service that people can go to and find out what the rents really should be in any particular area because if you knew, for example, that people were getting generally $1200 and all of a sudden they offer it for $800. You might be able to say in your mind, you know, just a little fishy.
LIANE: Yeah, I’m definitely some of the third party sites like zillow and realtor.com usually have a rent estimate type situation on there. Or you can ask again if you’re working with a realtor, they can look up what the average rents are for you.
AL: Do better business bureaus and those kinds of things help in these kinds of situations. Is there a realtor’s association that’s also keeping track of this?
LIANE: Um, I, yeah, I think they are looking into it because it’s become so much more prevalent, but I would certainly report it to the better business bureau and um, and like I said to your local police and see if there’s an internet crimes division that they can at least forward that case on to.
AL: Are there more properties of a certain price range that this is likely to happen than the then the real expensive or the least expensive?
LIANE: I don’t know that it’s different price ranges because I saw it happen anywhere from $1,200 up to a $5,000 a month rental that was a big house on the water. So it’s across the board. I think, you know, when they see these hackers see good photos that they know are going to draw people in, those are the ones they are stealing.
AL: Now lastly, if I decide to want to use a real estate agent and you know, I try to be upfront about all this stuff, is a real estate agent going to charge me a fee to help me find a rental?
LIANE: It depends, in this area, you don’t see that as much as you do in places like New York City where they charge a placement fee, but they they might. But typically they get paid by the landlord or there’s a split from the cooperating broker offer.
AL: So in some ways you’d say, well you may feel like you’re saving money on your rent, but if you go through a broker at least you know you’ve got some backup where you got an organization that has the clout and they have that have seen these things coming along. Well that’s great. Thank you for bringing this to attention because I knew, I knew it was high, but man, I think almost more than 40 percent. Wow. That’s crazy stuff. Liane Jamason. Thank you so much.