Online rental scams

 Debbie_09 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®, 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.

Be proactive!

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.

5 thoughts on “Online rental scams

  1. @Dawn, CarolinaMLS does require all IDX vendors to ensure that the IDX data is not gathered from their systems by automated means, such as scraping or other means of pirating. Similar terms are also included in the agreement between CarolinaMLS and MOVE, Inc. which owns ListHub. These scammers pick and choose the listings from public websites to perpetrate their crimes. There is nothing we can do to prevent that.

    @Glenn, Thanks! Great idea.

    @Pam, how quickly were the issues resolved? Were you able to report the fraudulent ads?

  2. I list mostly bank owned property. I have a huge problem with scammers. Because my listings are vacant there is no one there to make the possible renter question the transaction. The scammer will break in the back or through a window, change the locks and rent it to someone with a standard Staples or Office Depot lease. When I show up to do the weekly property check the renter has a lease and has no idea they have been scammed. This almost happened with a homeowner listing but the alarm system scared them off. To say this is a HUGE problem would be an understatement.

  3. This happened to one of my listings three times. The Sellers were being harassed so frequently with people coming to the door and wandering around the property that they asked me to withdraw the listing (and of course we reported to CraigsList). I feel the MLS has some responsibility here. We have IDX agreements with Zillow, etc. and their IS a way to make the data more secure – why can’t we require all of our vendors through List Hub to be secure???

  4. Thanks Debbie! This happened to us, in Hendersonville, NC, last fall, on two different listings at the same time. We began getting calls on the homes, and people were driving by, the neighbors were alarmed. We found there was a common thing happening – the buyer or potential renters WERE DRIVING BY looking for where the property was. So we had signs made up, and we clamped them to our yard sign to make it very difficult to steal – It worked!!! The person being scammed called us and we explained. One person was just about to write a check to the scammer when she called us. We even worked with one couple and helped them buy a home versus renting. Law Enforcement can only do so much, and keeping our Seller, and the public safe – goes along with the REALTOR Pledge! I posted a picture of sign on website for Reference:

  5. Thanks Debbie! I had this happen about four years ago to a seller client in South Charlotte and it was a nightmare! People were walking the property, peaking in the windows and the sellers were living there. He also spoke to potential renters as if they were Mr. Seller, using his name, and asking people to wire money (after also gathering a great deal of personal info on the scamm-ee!) to an account. He told potential renters that he had taken an assignment in England, and therefore couldn’t show them the home but gave them all the info about the home and the okay to walk the property.

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