|By Debbie Wey
Vice President, MLS Administration
CarolinaMLS often receives reports from members about rental-scams. First and foremost, we want to relay that Matrix™ is a secure database for MLS Subscribers to list homes and properties for sale. The idea that scammers hack into Matrix for listings is not likely. However, when those listings show up on the Internet — either on a real estate firm’s website or another site for the purpose of advertising the listing, such as realtor.com®, Zillow, etc. — any scammer can copy that content and use it maliciously.
Scams are as simple as someone taking a picture and description of a home that’s for sale from one website and placing it on another site. The scam generally involves a potential renter who sends a deposit and/or rent to secure a rental. Once the monies have been sent or wired, the rental goes away and there is no way to track down the scammer. The person desiring the rental loses his or her money and has no recourse.
Realtors® should continually patrol the Internet, particularly Craigslist, for their own listings. This video by the National Association of Realtors® gives step-by-step instructions Realtors® can follow to identify scams as soon as a fraudulent ad is posted online by creating a Google Alert to help automate the patrols, setting up a “recipe” on “If This Then That (IFTTT),” and creating an image search using Google Images.
Suggestions for potential renters and sellers:
- If the rent or deposit seems too low, or if the landlord wants money wired without showing the house, then this should be a red flag.
- Potential renters should Google the address. If it shows up as a home for sale, that might indicate there is a problem.
- Overseas scammers in countries like Nigeria are virtually immune from U.S. law enforcement.
- Law enforcement recommends against contacting the scammer directly or attempting to “set up” the scammer. This might impede an investigation and it might not be safe.
What should you do if your listing is fraudulently advertised as “for rent?”
If your listing is posted on Craigslist, Zillow or some other public website as a fake rental, you must report the issue to the website operator, not CarolinaMLS.
- Zillow: Report fake listings by clicking on the “Report a problem with this listing” link.
- Craigslist: Alert Craigslist by flagging the post as “Prohibited” (upper, left corner).
File complaints with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The FTC does not resolve individual consumer complaints, but it does use the data to track patterns of wrong-doing and can help with investigations and prosecutions.