Real estate agents may have unwittingly aided a Craigslist rental scam that swindled hundreds of thousands of dollars from would-be renters, by providing fraudsters who posed as buyer’s agents with keys to vacant condos that legitimate brokers had listed for sale.

The scammers would use photos and other information from for-sale listings to place bogus ads that advertised the homes as rentals. When victims responded to the ads, the scammers may have obtained keys from listing brokers by posing as buyer’s agents, and claiming that they had clients who wanted to tour the properties.

All told, the Real Estate Council of British Columbia thinks six condos in Vancouver were used to swindle hundreds of thousands of dollars from potential renters.

A CBC News investigation resulted in several victims coming forward, including a woman who filed a complaint with the Real Estate Council against the listing agents of the condo she says was used to scam her out of $6,000. The listing agents were absolved.

The president of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver told CBC News he did not know how the scammers were gaining access to the listed properties. Listing brokers are required to verify the licenses of real estate agents who want to show a property before providing access to them.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has published an advisory detailing ways to spot rental scams and how to report them. One common technique is to hijack a real rental or real estate listing by reposting it with bogus contact information. Hijackers have also taken over email accounts of property owners listing homes on vacation rental websites.

Promises of low rent or amazing amenities are also used to dupe victims into shelling out money for homes that are not for rent or that don’t exist.

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