Fake listing scam still going strong

Protect against fraud and internet scams

Want to learn more about how to protect yourself and your clients from scammers? Florida Realtors 2017 Convention & Trade Expo offers an education session: “Reduce the Risk of Real Estate Wire Fraud and Internet Scams,” Aug. 17, from 8:30-9:30 a.m. For more info or to register for convention, click here.

“Received a very alarming call this morning from a girl that was getting ready to send cash to someone for keys for a rental she found on Zillow/Trulia,” Heartland Real Estate Agent Dawn Dell posted Tuesday on Facebook. “This is my listing, currently active, and the sellers are not interested in renting.”

Luckily, the out-of-state customer sensed something and called Dell.

It’s happened several times in the past, Dell said Wednesday. “I get the listing and they steal our pictures.”

In this case, the scammers – who Dell said are sophisticated – posted on Zillow.

Scammers usually offer a sensational deal – in this case under $700 for a house that would normally rent for $1,000 a month.

“When you talk to (the scammers), they say they’re in the military and they’re not coming back, that’s why they need to rent it quick; or they couldn’t sell it so they need to rent it.”

Six locals replied to Dell’s post, each saying they or a close relative had encountered scams. Andy Centonzio tried to rent a house in Sebring. However, his wife had worked for a local Realtor.

“She said, ‘I took that photo. That’s my photo,'” Centonzio said.

RE/MAX Realty Plus agent Sue Dean was called by a woman who had driven by the house that Dean had listed. “She said, ‘I’m getting ready to send money.’ I called the sellers. They said they didn’t put it on Craigslist. It’s kind of scary, really.”

Both Dell and Centonzio said renters should use common-sense business practices: if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is; and never send money to people you don’t know.

“One guy wanted cash or a money order,” Centonzio said. “One guy wanted the money in advance, and he would FedEx the keys. One wanted to know if we had Western Union or Amscot, so I could wire the money. And one guy was asking for credit card information.”

Always contact the real estate agency that has the sales listing, Dell suggested. “Have somebody look at it. Look in the local paper for houses, or use a rental company that’s in town.”

Dean suggested searching for the property owner’s name at the Highlands County property appraiser’s website, www.hcpao.org

Centonzio kept asking to see the inside of the house, a request scammers couldn’t fulfill. “They say, ‘Oh, we’re not in town.'”

Copyright © 2017, Highlands News-Sun. All rights reserved.

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