Rental scam: tenants fall for fake ads using real estate

Even after discovering the fake account, it may not be deleted immediately.

PHOENIX – A scam hoping to cheat thousands of potential tenants uses real homes “for sale” and the power of the Internet.

This is another example of criminals trying to take advantage of a competitive housing market.

Real estate agent Chris Vaupell learned his ad was being used for a scam when he started getting calls while on a family trip to California.

“Ask if my property was actually for rent,” said Vaupell.

The calls took Vaupell by surprise. The property was not for rent, but it was sold for over $ 500,000.

However, one page on a real estate listing website had the property available for rent, for less than $ 2,000.

“It gets on your nerves enough because you start to lose control,” Vaupell said.

Vaupell’s ad was copied, frame by frame, to the fake account. The address was also the same, except that “unit 1” was added at the end.

How does the scam work?

The scam is not new. Vaupell and Arizona Association of Realtors president Jan Leighton said the scam has been around for at least 10 years.

Real estate agents often list listings in the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). From there, real estate listing sites often collect the information for themselves. Scammers then search for vacant homes and then create fake accounts.

Scammers often pretend to be out of town and tell victims to go and visit the house on their own.

“They take care of the vacant house because then you can send the guy over there to go around it,” Vaupell said. “There is no owner to tell you this is not legitimate.”

Vaupell said crooks often ask for a down payment before they disappear.

Vaupell saw the situation play out firsthand. After seeing the bogus page of his ad, he reached out and pretended to be a potential tenant.

The man, who was called “Kenneth,” claimed he was a pastor who was outside of New York City. He told Vaupell he could come through the house and quickly asked him to apply.

In the text messages provided to 12 News, “Kenneth” even provided a bank account and a routing number to send a deposit.

Even when discovered, fake accounts can remain active

Vaupell contacted the real estate website about the fake account a week before it was deleted.

What can be done?

To potential tenants, if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

However, one way to check is to see if the person renting the house actually owns it. If the potential new landlord doesn’t ask to see a pay stub or examine you as a potential tenant, be careful.

Vaupell also hopes that real estate listing sites create a better system to better identify and eliminate fraudulent pages.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich warned earlier this year to be on the lookout for growing number of rental scams: Attorney General Mark Brnovich warns consumers about scams for hire | Arizona Attorney General (azag.gov)

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