Over the past year, Oahu, Hawaii-based Realtor Christine Muth has been battling Craigslist scammers who have used her name and likeness to steal thousands of dollars from unsuspecting renters. These crooks combine a too-good-to-be-true deal with well-known Realtor headshots and logos to deceive hopeful online browsers, the Hawaii Better Business Bureau told KHON2.
To make matters worse, the ill-intentioned have stepped up their grammar game in what Muth called “super legitimate looking” emails to victims.
In an interview with KHON2, Muth says she realized what was happening after a man called her to say that the home he just bought from her was, in fact, a hotel. Needless to say, it was not the real Muth behind the “listing.”
The most recent scam, which Muth described as the worst yet, prompted her to reach out to KHON2. A woman had sent three months rent and a deposit to a fake address (the building existed, Muth said, but not the unit number).
Muth reached out to KHON2’s “Report It” team to help her warn residents of the false listings since the Honolulu Police Department has been unable to track down the scammers.
In the meantime, she’s been spending a chunk of each day scouring Craigslist for scams and reporting any fake listings that use her name.
Since the KHON2 report, Muth says the number of listings she’s had to flag has decreased, and she’s created a Craiglist listing of her own to warn unwary renters of any ads coming from christinemrentals.com.
Also, she tells renters who have been scammed to contact the Honolulu PD immediately to file a report, and she leads them to hicentral.com, which has a list of 900 valid rental listings.
“The more we can get the word out there, my hope would be that less innocent renters will be taken advantage of,” said Muth in an emailed statement.
How to protect buyers from listing scams
Earlier this year, Florida Realtors released a guide to protect homebuyers from online listing scams after scammers began heavily targeting listings in 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.”
Here’s what Florida Realtors suggested:
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:
- Report any rental scam to your local law enforcement agency and to the Federal Trade Commission.
- Notify the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
- Contact the website where the ad or listing was posted.