3 steps to protecting homebuyers from online listing scams

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Ninety percent of buyers use online search to find the perfect home, according to the National Association of Realtors. Most buyers probably don’t give a second thought to the sites they use, but Florida Realtors says they should after a rash of listing scams across the state.

“Unfortunately, criminals keep coming up with sophisticated schemes that target online rentals and property listing sites,” said Florida Realtors 2017 President Maria Wells in a press release. 

“Realtors must be aware that criminals are using their legitimate listings data to lure consumers to phony listings on internet portals. We urge our members to use diligent efforts to help safeguard against these schemes and to encourage their clients to call their Realtor to verify any information.”

The association says scammers “scrape” (aka steal) listing information from reputable listing sites, and transfer it to a fraudulent site they’ve created. Or, they repost it to sites like Craigslist with their contact information.

From there, the scammers ask unsuspecting buyers for deposits or access to their bank accounts.

“We urge consumers to double check all information about any property listing before sending any funds to anyone,” says Florida Realtors General Counsel Margy Grant.

“Criminals are creating extremely realistic listings, or stealing others’ listings, in an attempt to convince consumers to send deposits before they confirm the actual true listing agent.

“If a deal sounds too good to be true, if someone can’t show you the property in person because they’re out of state or out of the country, if they want you to send a deposit or first month’s rent via a wire service before you’ve seen the property or signed a lease, if they want all your personal financial information — these can be possible signs of listing scams.”

Grant says it’s incredibly hard to stop data scrapers, but agents can take a few steps to protect their listings and their clients:

1. Set up search engine alerts.

When your listing shows up on another site, you’ll receive a notification. From there, check each link to make sure you’re properly listed as the listing agent

2. Educate buyers.

Grant says agents should follow a three-item checklist in educating buyers about potential scams:

  • Tell your buyers what the running market value is for homes and rentals. If the listing price is far below that value, then the listing is most likely fraudulent.
  • Tell buyers that they shouldn’t send any funds or provide bank information before a showing.
  • If the listing agent or seller says they need to sell the home quickly because of a sudden emergency, or because they’re out of the country and can’t do the transaction as usual, beware.

3. If your listing is scraped, notify the authorities immediately.

Here are the three entities you need to contact:

  1. Report any rental scam to your local law enforcement agency and to the Federal Trade Commission.
  2. Notify the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
  3. Contact the website where the ad or listing was posted.

Email Marian McPherson