If you are planning to respond to ads for rental properties online or sending in your information to real estate websites, you need to make sure you’re not setting yourself up for becoming a victim of a real estate scam. The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has been receiving numerous complaints from people who have been scammed by companies or individuals who have been posting fake ads or issuing false rental agreements for apartments, condos, and houses. Here are some important things you should know about rental and real estate scams:
What Are Rental and Real Estate Scams?
Rental and real estate scams are set up to encourage people to send in a certain amount of funds to secure a property or to fulfill their part of a contract, but typically involve some type of counterfeit check or even a fraudulent transaction. Some scams are set up to email people who respond to a fake ad posted online with a message that states the owner lives in a foreign country and must receive a check or wire transfer to secure the property. In both cases, the victim is required to send money that they end up losing.
How Rental and Real Estate Scams Work
In a rental scam, the victim has already advertised their rental property and is contacted by someone who appears to be interested in the property. The scammer goes as far as sending in a check as a deposit on the rental and usually writes the check in excess of the amount required and asks for the remainder to be remitted back. Or, the check is written for the correct amount and then the scammer backs out of the rental agreement and requests on the funds. Since the banks don’t usually place a hold on the funds, the victim still has access to them and thinks that the check has already cleared. The check is deemed to be counterfeit and the victim is then responsible for the bank’s loss.
In a real estate scam, a scammer duplicates postings from legitimate real estate websites and might also repost the ads, altering them only slightly. When people start responding to the ads, they receive a response from a fake email account that claims the owner is out of the country and must receive a deposit to an account overseas. The scammer usually claims that the they need someone to rent their home while their away and all payments must be made to a certain account overseas.
How to Avoid Rental and Real Estate Scams
Be very wary of both of these types of rental and real estate scams so that you are never in a position to send or receive money from an overseas account. If you receive a check from someone as a deposit, make sure the check clears from your bank before you spend money from that account. Be very careful when dealing with people who send an overpayment on a check or if someone suddenly backs out of a rental agreement.
What to Do If You Are a Victim of Rental and Real Estate Scams
If you have been a victim of an online rental or real estate scam, you can report the incident to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.ic3.gov. The IC3 may be able to forward the case to a local law enforcement agency to review the case further.