WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Hunting for a new home has always been stressful, but shopping for a house has never been easier in the digital age. It’s also never been scarier.
Internet scams are almost as old as the technology itself, and the variety of types of fraud is ever-growing. Among identity thefts, stealing of bank information, and the occasional “Nigerian Prince” email scam, which, according to CNBC, still pulls in an estimated $700,000 a year, the home listing scam is becoming more elaborate and harder to prevent.
“It’s definitely more difficult in this age of coronavirus and social distancing,” said Sedgwick County Assistant District Attorney, Jason Roach.”There are scammers out there, and the tools to scam you are growing.”
Tools for many scams are sites like Craigslist, the popular classified advertisement website with sections for jobs, housing, private sales, items wanted, and more, or even Facebook Marketplace.
Scammers will search local listings from verified websites like Zillow, Trulia, or Realtor.com, take pictures and information from that page, and post them to Craiglist, and similar unverified user sites, as their own. The fraudsters often lower the price of a listing or alter details, making it appear like a great deal encouraging perusers to act fast.
“I found this house, and there were a lot of pictures. It was exactly what I wanted,” Donna Ferrell told KSN after emailing a Craigslist ad about a home in Wichita. “I heard back from him right away.” The con artist told Ferrell that he and his family were out of town after relocating due to the coronavirus and wanted someone to rent and take care of the property.
The faux landlords respond to email requests about the property, seemingly informative, and telling a personal story but often refuse to speak over the phone or meet in person, telling the potential buyer/renter they are out of town or unable to meet in person to show the property.
Ferrell was told she would be sent paperwork, a lease requesting social security numbers, phone contacts, and other sensitive information, and a key would be sent to her to view the home’s interior. and “Then I called him out,” Ferrell said. “I’m getting the feeling that this is shady.”
Patty Cisney of EXP Realty said that if they’re reluctant to show a home in person, it should be a warning. “If they’re asking for money upfront, and they are not physically going to take you through the house, or meet you there and take you in. Don’t, don’t even bother.” Cisney said. “Don’t even if it’s a sad story. Stay away. Don’t get caught up into something because that’s usually a major red flag if you can’t even walk through.”
If these swindlers are successful, it can be an expensive loss for those merely looking for a new space. Depending on the scam, losses can be hard to regain, and the criminal hard to catch.
“Frequently scams, these are shells, they’re not real people,” said Assitant District Attorney, Roach. “I think we kind of described it as you’re pulling back a curtain of the Wizard of Oz, and maybe there’s no one there,” said Assitant DA Roach. “It’s very hard for us to know, on a consumer protection issue, how helpful we could be for this consumer because we may be roadblocked to find out who are they really dealing with.”
Experts say be skeptical and to learn who you’re dealing with by asking questions about the property. If they cannot provide detailed information, then that listing that seems too good to be true very likely is. Verify the addresses and search the property manager online. Also, be suspicious of those asking you to send them cash, money orders, or any other type of non-recoupable transaction.
If you do identify one of these scam listings, reach out to the realty company, report it to local authorities, and contact the Federal Trade Commission Agency in your area.
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