While shopping online for houses to rent or buy, it's possible you've seen some unbelievable listings. However, which listings are amazing deals, and which are scams? Landmark is here to help you learn what are some red-flags for scam listings, as well as what you can do if you've become a victim of an online housing scam. Don't forget to check out our last post on three common rental listing scams you may see online!
(Realtors, jump to our tips for if you’ve had a listing
stolen from you and want to know what next steps to take.)
There are a few telltale signs that give away listing scams. Keep your eye out for these while searching for housing online:
Listings That Don’t Have Pictures or Addresses
While it’s possible that the listing poster is being cautious, this is a red flag for a fake house listing. Be wary!
Listings That Have Strange Contact Information
Weird email addresses could be a sign of a throwaway account that can’t be tracked once the scam is complete. A lack of phone number is a concern as well.
Listings That Have Prices that are Too Low
When you see a home listed for $800 dollars a month with 3 beds,2 baths, and amazing amenities, you have to wonder if the home is the site of a murder scene or a scam artist. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Owners Who Ask For Money Before Giving Information/Access to Property
You should never be required to pay or give a credit check until you’re absolutely sure you’re going to move into the home. If you haven’t seen the property, how can you know if you’re going to want to move in? This is a sure sign of a scam.
Photos/Descriptions That Don’t Match Up with Area
Many times scammers duplicate listings in many different areas and keep pictures of snow-covered homes in hot climates or promises of close to beach areas in mountainous regions. Pay attention to these discrepancies.
How to Make Sure You’re Not Being Scammed on Rental Properties
Never Wire Money
Wiring money is the same as sending cash – there’s no trace, and there’s virtually no way to get the money back, especially if it’s sent to another country. Don’t pay for anything until you’ve seen the property, and then only pay in traceable forms of payment.
Does the price on a listing seem low? A great way to see if the price is accurate is to look at the surrounding home’s estimates on a Real Estate site. (Try Zillow’s Zestimates, for example.) If you’re wondering about HOAs in the area and what amenities are included in homes next door, you can search using the address to look for a home owner’s association and their amenities.
Never Work with a “Middle-Man”
Some scammers will say they’ve been hired by the actual owner to rent out the property – but make sure to talk with the actual owner when renting a home.
Look For Duplicates
As you search on listing sites, make sure to check for duplicates by copying and pasting the address or listing description into Google. You may find a number of different listings for the same home over different states or with different prices. Don’t peruse these advertisements.
Call and Email the Lister
It’s always a good idea to call and email the seller/property owner, just in case their email address has been hacked.
Verify the Owner
Don’t get stuck with the horror of moving into a home that isn’t actually yours. Go to your city’s public records office and look up the address and owner of the home to ensure the owner you’re speaking with actually owns the home.
What a Homeowner Can Do if They’re Scammed:
Unfortunately, these situations happen often, and there’s a limited chance of getting the money back from the scammer. However, if a homeowner has been scammed, they should:
- File a report with their local police station.
- File a report with the FBI.
- File a report with the Federal Trade Commission.
- Contact the site with the fake listing and report it.
- File a report with your local police.
Although the local police won’t be able to do much as this is an online problem and not technically a “crime,” you should file a report just to be safe and have concrete evidence of wrongdoing.
- File a report with your Board of Realtors.
Tell your Board of Realtors for your state about the scam. They may not be able to do much either, but they will take note of the scam listing and may track it.
- Report the scam ad to the listing website.
Report the listing to have the website remove it from their page. If you don’t have a listing on the website, you could put an actual listing to make sure people see the real price and your contact information.
- Alert potential buyers/renters.
Put signs up around the property stating that it is the target of an online scam and to only speak directly with you. Make sure to put the correct prices on the signs as well.