The Craigslist Scam: Still Around and Still a Problem
ORLANDO, Fla. – A scam’s success rate tends to decline as the public becomes aware of it. However, the Craigslist real estate scam is an exception.
The scam continues unabated because it costs a scammer nothing to scrape listing information and post an ad on Craigslist. Between the scraping and posting, they only need to change the contact information, though they also tend to drop the asking price as a hook to draw in more gullible consumers.
“Fake online real estate ads are an ongoing problem,” says Juana Watkins, Florida Realtors vice president of law and policy and general counsel. “Real estate remains attractive because it’s so lucrative for the scammers. It costs them nothing to scrape legitimate real estate ads, edit contact info and repost in Craigslist. And a single successful scam can net them thousands of dollars.”
In many cases, Realtors list a property and put it into the MLS, which then syndicates it to online advertising portals that consumers routinely use. That makes it difficult for Realtors to track where it appears or discover if a listing has been hacked.
“The biggest concern, however, is that the criminal uses your logo that appeared in the original ad – and sometimes your name or email address – to make their fake ad appear legitimate,” says Watkins.
If an unwitting consumer falls for the scam, they’re asked to send money to cover things like deposits, first-month’s rent, etc. They often don’t know there’s a problem until they show up at the property and try to move in. When that fails, they then try to contact the “landlord” to find out what’s going on.
“Many Realtors don’t even realize there’s trouble until this point,” says Watkins. “When the consumer can no longer reach the criminal, they refer back to the ad and the Realtor whose name appeared on the fake listing. They get your contact information and then call you. Realtors aren’t liable for stolen information that’s used for fraudulent purposes, but this can create havoc in the marketplace.”
What you can do
Monitor listings: Assertively protect data from illegal use by monitoring listings. Each search engine has a tool that allows Realtors to set “alerts” if certain information is posted online. Google, for example, has “Google Alerts.” By signing up, you’ll receive a notification every time that listing information shows up on a website.
Protect Craigslist shoppers: Two or three times per week, post a stand-alone warning on Craigslist. Explain how online real estate rentals scams operate and tell rental-seekers how to avoid them.
Report fraud: While it’s difficult to find and prosecute cybercrime, it’s not impossible. If you find a rental scam based on one of your listings, contact the website where it appears. You can also report the crime to:
- Your local law enforcement agency
- The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
- The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center
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