Thursday, April 14, 2016

Wisconsin Homeowner Lists Home For Sale w/ Real Estate Agent On Realtor Website; One Day Later, Prospective Renters Begin Showing Up At Front Door Responding To Fake Craigslist Rent Scam Ad

In Janesville, Wisconsin, the GazetteXtra reports:
  • Janesville resident Dave von Falkenstein is wondering when people will stop knocking on his door to ask if they can pay rent to live in his home.

    It's happened three times in the last two weeks, and he's told all three people the same answer: No. That's because von Falkenstein's South Fremont Street home is not for rent—and he never told anyone it was.

    Yet his two-story bungalow the city's east side keeps popping up in a fake for-rent listing on classified sales website craigslist.com. And people keep seeing the listing and keep coming to his home to ask about it.

    It started a few weeks ago, just a day after von Falkenstein says he listed his home for sale through a local Realtor and the Realtor's website.

    Von Falkenstein never posted his listing on craigslist. Which means it likely got hijacked and altered through a type of online scam that police and Realtors call the “craigslist rent scam.”

    Scammers troll real estate websites and other sources, pluck otherwise legitimate real estate listings, re-tool them and re-post portions of the listings to craigslist or other sites that aggregate classified sales to try to defraud prospective renters.

    Someone with no ties to von Falkenstein or the sale of his home has created a phony rent listing for von Falkenstein's property. That person is using his home as bait to lure people to reply to an email address and then wire an up-front payment of $1,100.

    According to the fake listing, the payment would cover security and fees to rent von Falkenstein's home.

    In return, the listing says, the person would get the keys to von Falkenstein's home through the mail along with rent documents.

    A rent scammer, of course, would not have access to von Falkenstein's keys.
    ***
    Von Falkenstein, who works as a website editor and analyst for gazettextra.com, The Gazette's website, said he's not sure how many people have seen the fake listing of his property, or whether anyone has been swindled because of it.

    He discovered his home listing had been hijacked when a man showed up at his house and to ask about renting it. The man told him the house was listed on craigslist for rent for $600 a month.

    Von Falkenstein flagged the listing for removal from craigslist, but it popped up again on the site a few days later. Von Falkenstein's Realtor called him the second time the fake listing showed up, and he flagged it for removal. Again, craigslist removed the fake listing.
    ***
    A few days later, a woman from Stoughton showed up at his house with a list of craigslist rentals she was scouting. A few days ago, while von Falkenstein was raking his lawn, a man walked up and asked him about renting his house.

    It's kind of weird when it's eight o'clock at night and somebody knocks on your door to tell you your house is for rent. It's weird—especially when you have no personal memory of ever advertising your home for rent, and a sign in front yard says 'for sale' just as clear as day,” von Falkenstein said.
    ***
    Scammers typically offer email addresses and seek to set up electronic money transfers for what they claim is for first-month rent and security. Like other online scams, the scammers often often try to limit contact to email.
    ***
    [Realtor Randy] Borman said he heard of another rent scammer who used the actual name of the property owner in a phony listing, which he believes might have been plucked from online property tax records. [...] He said a phone call to a Realtor linked to a property listing could settle whether the house is actually for rent, and it could help someone find out if an online listing is legitimate.

    Borman said most legitimate owners, listing agents or landlords won't seek money up front for a rental without first meeting with the tenant or going through an application process.

    “As always, the best advice is the adage 'if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,'” Borman said.
For the story, see So-called 'craigslist rent scam' emerging in Janesville (may require paid subscription; if no subscription, TRY HERE, then click the appropriate link).

For a recent study on fraudulently posted online rental listings, see Understanding Craigslist Rental Scams.

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