Did you just find your “for sale” home listed on Craigslist or Facebook as “for rent”? This is one of the most common real estate scams. Criminals look for properties that are vacant, steal the photos and description, and post them online to lure in victims. When a potential renter shows interest, they act like they are out-of-town homeowners and can’t meet to show them the home. The more experienced criminals figure out how to provide access if the home is unsecured. They do this by checking the home for hidden keys and unlocked entry points. If the home is on a combo box, they may create an alias or fake account (depending on the type of access) to get the combo code, and then will give the code to the rental victim. Others will tell the potential renter to peek in the windows.
If the potential renter likes the home, the criminal will ask for a deposit to secure the rental for them. They may even send them paperwork to fill out and sign. The renter sends them the money and then shows up on their move-in date ready to get the key. If they gained access by a combo box, they may already have it. We’ve even seen where a renter was let into the home by third parties who don’t know any better. They just assume they’re the new owners.
Homeowners (old and new) have shown up at their properties to find people attempting to move in or already living there. This is when things get very messy. Renters often don’t have anywhere else to go and may outright refuse to leave. Evicting the unwanted guests is not as easy as calling the cops for trespassing. Depending on the location of the home, the homeowners may need to get an eviction order through the court to get their home back.
It’s important to take action as soon as you discover the scam listing.
- Take a screenshot or print the listing for future reference.
- Report the listing to the host website. There’s usually a button or menu option right on the listing page that will let you do this. If you have a Realtor and a few friends available, have them report it too. The more reports, the faster it will be removed.
- Put a sign that says “Not for Rent” in the window of the home. A realty sign in the front yard is not a guarantee that people will realize it’s not for rent, because many real estate companies also have rental divisions. Past rental victims have admitted to not calling the yard sign number, because they already thought they were talking to the owner.
- If you have any information that can be traced, like a phone number, file a report with the police. It may help them identify a suspect.
If someone has already attempted to move into your home, you will need to hire a real estate attorney with experience in evictions.
Tips for Renters
Finding a rental online in Wilmington can be difficult. There is no central hub for rental listings, which means you’ll be looking at multiple websites for homes for rent and calling around a lot. Here are a few things to keep in mind when looking at and requesting information about properties:
- If the rent seems like a great deal, it’s probably not real. Scammers like to post low-ball rental rates to attract desperate renters who are more likely to be led by emotion than level-headed reasoning.
- Are the pictures screenshots? They’re likely stolen from a legit listing or website like Zillow, which shows pictures from the last time the home was listed for sale.
- Did the “owner” ask for a deposit before you stepped inside the home? Chances are they don’t have access.
- Googling the address should be one of the first things you do. This will bring up any “for sale” and “for rent” listings where the property pictures and information could be stolen from. If it’s for sale, it’s likely not for rent.
- If the property is self-managed, look up the owner’s name in the property’s tax records. This is public information and can usually be found online at the county’s website. Sometimes, properties are owned by LLCs and other types of corporations, you can often find the name of the registered owner on the Secretary of State website. If not, ask for proof of ownership. Not all criminals are smart enough to dig this deep to cover their lies and it can reveal if the owner is local or not.
- Be careful who you are sharing sensitive information with. Many legit property management companies use online systems for applications, which may seem just beneficial to them, but is also good for you as most criminals won’t go to those lengths to cover their schemes. When providing a photocopied I.D. for a rental application, type “For Rental Application” over it, because criminals will also post these on the dark web in exchange for money.
- Have you discovered a home for sale listed as a rental? Let the real estate agent know. They and the owner will greatly appreciate it!