Online rental scams: where to turn, what to do
Thursday, July 12, 2012
Zillow, Trulia, and Craigslist are big targets for fake rental scams, and REALTORS® all across the country are encountering these online thieves. Below is a list of actions you can take if you discover your listing is being falsely advertised as "for rent."
- Contact your seller to alert them of the false posting. Let them know that law enforcement recommends against contacting the scammer directly or attempting to "set up" the scammer (doing so hinders an investigation and is a safety hazard!).
If you find your listing posted on Zillow or Trulia as a fake rental, simply click the "Report Problem" tab under the listing details page and e-mail the staff right away.
Craigslist, however, is the most common online platform for fake rentals (because it's free). If you are victim of a Craigslist rental scam, here's what you need to do:
- Alert Craigslist by flagging the post as ‘prohibited’ (upper right corner).
- Send details to firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include the URL (or 10-digit post ID number) in your message.
- Follow up with Craigslist and review the site to ensure the faulty posting is removed.
- Go to forums.craigslist.org and tell the community about this scammer. They will shut down the scammer.
Taking More Action
»You can file a complaint with the Seminole County Sheriff's Office, which recommends taking the following actions BEFORE you contact Craigslist in order to aid in an investigation:
- Make a screen shot of the listing, ASAP. Scammers often post a listing very briefly, then take it down as soon as they receive a response.
- Call the Seminole County Sheriff's Office non-emergency number (407.655.6650) to report the scam. A deputy from the proper jurisdiction will respond to your location, collect information, and forward the case to the Seminole Financial Crimes Task Force for investigation.
- Do NOT attempt to contact or "set up" the scammer. Doing so will hinder law enforcement's ability to investigate the crime and jeopardize your safety.
You should take into consideration your ability to complete the first two actions in a timely fashion, advises Seminole Financial Crimes Task Force member Sergeant Jason Bender. "We would rather you go ahead and contact Craigslist to have the posting removed than for someone to be victimized," he explains.
»According to the Orange County Sheriff's Office, you can file a complaint against the scammer in any city or county law enforcement office building (physically go there; don't call or e-mail). Bring with you as much information as you can gather. An officer will also be able to advise if your situation appears to have components of a civil complaint as well.
»You can file a complaint against the scammer with the Florida Division of Real Estate, which in turn can prosecute the scammer for unlicensed activity (a third-degree felony). According to 475.01, Florida Statutes, leasing property, directly or indirectly procuring tenants, and advertising a property for lease are all included in the definition of a broker.
»You can file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center and/or with the Federal Trade Commission, which has a nifty video. 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.
Finally, be sure to do periodic Internet searches to ensure your properties are accurately listed on authorized sites. To help automate this process, set a Google Alert for your listings’ addresses.
Sources: Columbus (Ohio) Board of REALTORS®, ORRA, and South Carolina Association of REALTORS®