The Better Business Bureau Serving Central East Texas on Tuesday warned renters and Realtors to be on the lookout for phony online ads when selling a home or looking for a rental property.
Bogus ads for rental properties are cropping up on Craigslist and other Internet services, aimed at stealing money from unsuspecting renters. In most cases, the perpetrator of the fraud is out of the country and claims to be unable to show the home or to provide additional photos.
However, recent evidence indicates there are also scam artists working locally. “For Sale” signs are missing from yards as soon as the ad is available on the Internet, officials said.
“Online ads have made finding rental properties much more convenient for consumers, and many prospective renters have successfully found homes through online classified ads,” Mechele Agbayani Mills, president/CEO of BBB, said in a prepared statement. “Unfortunately, though, what is convenient for consumers also is convenient for someone trying to take advantage of them.”
A Tyler-area real estate agent discovered a house she had listed for $170,000 on her website also was posted on Craigslist for $850 per month, well below market value, Ms. Mills reported.
Criminals typically search websites listing homes for sale, hijack the information and post it with their own email address under the housing rentals category. The houses are almost always listed below market rental rates with the explanation that the owner had to leave the U.S. because of a missionary contract or a new job.
The victims are told by the “landlord” to wire as much as a $1,400 deposit. Once the money is sent, no keys are received and the listing disappears. Renters also may be asked to fill out a credit application, which provides the schemer with access to information with which they can commit identity theft in the future.
BBB provides the following red flags when looking to lease a home:
The deal sounds too good to be true; the “landlord” is located elsewhere and prefers to communicate via email; the “landlord” requires a substantial deposit before handing over the keys or showing the property; or the “landlord” asks the renter to wire money.
BBB advises Realtors to do an Internet search for newly listed properties to ensure their properties are not being used by scam artists.
For more information, go to www.bbb.org or call 903-581-8373.