You’re an intelligent person who uses the internet occasionally to research or purchase products. If you’ve moved within the last few years, you’ve probably had the joy of searching online for apartments and homes. Yet somehow, intelligent people just like you are being duped out of hundreds or thousands of dollars or becoming victims of identity theft through online housing listings. How? It’s a scam that’s been around since listings were first put online, but scammers are getting trickier. Scammers take your money, identity, or time by getting you interested in fake (but desirable) online listings.
Here’s everything you need to know about what scams are lurking out there.
Too Good to Be True: Real Home for Reduced Prices
This scam is based on real houses that are up for rent or sale. The scammer takes the listing that a realtor or owner put up online and duplicates it exactly but reduces the price dramatically. There are pictures, explanations, descriptions – the works! Everything about this scam is too good to be true. The price is amazing and the scammer tells the potential renter that the home’s water, power, and gas are all paid for by the property managers, or that the HOA provides everything from ground care to home maintenance. Scammers sometimes even go so far as to say bad or no credit or installments of the security deposit are fine, because “they understand”.
This scam is dangerous because it does give an address that you can drive to and check out and generally there is a sign out in the front yard indicating the property is for sale or rent. (If there’s not, the scammer probably has an excellent excuse as to why this isn’t the case, like keeping vandals away.) Not only is there a physical house that you can visit, the perks the scammer has created draw people in and make the fake listing irresistible. People can’t believe the good luck they’ve found with the home, and that’s how the scammers begin to take their money or identities.
Fake House Listing
Unlike the first type of listing, this scam listing doesn’t actually have a real home attached to it. It doesn’t include any pictures and the scammer usually says this is because they don’t want vandals on the property or breaking into the home while it’s empty. These listings also have low prices and great perks, but there’s no way to identify where the house is located or the seller.
This scam is dangerous because the scammer’s precautions generally make sense, and they have such a great deal on the property and amenities that you want to see the house.
You Move Into a Home You Don’t Own
This last scam is the scariest – and the trickiest to tell if the listing is a scam. You’ll find the listing online like the other two scams, but what’s odd is that with this scam you’ll actually visit the property. The scammer will send an accomplice or show up at the property and show you around after you contact them. The home is most likely a vacated home that’s been on the market for a long time without regular checkups from the owner. Scammers will be on the lookout for these types of homes that they can create (or duplicate) listings for and then “rent” the home to you. Usually scammers break into the home or have keys made for the house so they can show you the property and get you to sign a lease.
This is the most frightening scam by far, especially because most renters don’t realize they’ve been duped until they call the company to remove the “for sale/rent” sign in the front yard or the owner of the property comes out and knocks on the door. At that point, the renters have probably been paying rent for a long time and suddenly have to move all of their possessions out of the home and find somewhere else to live, with less money than before.
How They Get Your Money
Once you contact the scammer, they will do a number of things to try and get your money. Here are a few:
Out of the Country, but I’ll Send You Keys if You Send Me Money!
This one has a lot of iterations, but usually the scammer had to leave the country/ area suddenly and now is trying to rent the home for much cheaper. They’ll say they didn’t realize they’d be gone for so long and still have the keys to the home. Once you message them asking them to see the property, they’ll offer to send you the keys but want some sort of payment beforehand. They’ll ask you to wire money in exchange for the keys but the keys will never come (usually if the listing is a nonexistent home) or, if they do, they won’t be the right keys for the property.
Apply For the Home and Pay For an Application Fee or Security Deposit
With both the “fake” and “real” home listings, scammers will ask you to put down a security deposit or application fee of hundreds (or thousands) of dollars before they’ll let you see the property. Generally they’ll ask you to wire them money – which is like paying in cash. You’ll never hear from them again, with no way to get your money back.
Identity is Stolen Through a Credit Check
Before showing you the property (or giving you the address if the property is non-existent) the scammer will ask for you to perform a credit check. You’ll never hear from them again, as they’ll use this information to steal your identity.
Paying Rent to the Scammer
Finally, if the scammer has found a house that is abandoned or rarely visited by the owner, you could move in and be paying rent to the scammer for months before the problem is ever sorted out.
Now that you're armed with this information, you'll know to keep an eye out while shopping online for homes. For more information on home warranties, go here. If you want more information like this about selling, buying, or maintaining a home, sign up for our bi-monthly Homeowner Hacks email, here.