Spring in Real Estate brings Spring Scams

The real estate market is in full swing
and so are the real estate scams. 
It's been happening for years, but still
catches sellers and renters off guard every year. 

Imagine having you home listed for sale with an agent.  You expect to get a call letting you know there is a showing scheduled, but now there is someone walking around your house & looking in the windows.  You open the door to ask if you can help them and they say they just rented the house.  You say your house is for sale, not rent.  The would-be renter wired a deposit to someone claiming to own the house that they have been e-mailing for weeks. 

How does this happen?

It is called "scraping".  A scammer creates a fraudulent listing on a site like Craigslist offering a home for rent.  They often use images right from the website of the real estate company who has the home listed for sale.  They even copy the description.  After getting a bite from a potential renter, they always have a story about why they aren't living in the home (on a mission trip, moved months ago, etc...) and that they are unhappy with the real estate agent who will not release them from their contract.  Of course none of it is true.  

We have even seen scammers find the name of the actual home owner and set up an e-mail account in that name.  Sometimes they even say that the renter can pick up the key at the real estate agency after they wire a deposit to the scammer who claims to own the property.

While it is very difficult to keep these scammers from trying this on your home, it is good to be aware.  The scammers hide behind computers and pre-paid cell phones.  If you suspect this is taking place on your home, you may want to contact the real estate company who has the property listed...they will probably get calls asking to rent the home.  You can also search Craigslist and other sites to see if you find photos of your property.  If you do, flag it or report it. 

As a renter, there are some things you need to know to protect yourself:

  • If the owner can't meet you in person, or have someone meet you...it is probably a scam.
  • If they want a deposit before you see the property...it is probably a scam.
  • If they want you to wire a deposit...it is probably a scam.
  • If there is a real estate sign...call the company and ask if the property is for rent.

UPDATE:  This just happened again in Lewiston/Auburn.  Check out the SunJournal article here....Homeowner Vexed by Housing Scam.