As more and more of our business is conducted online, incidents of online real estate related fraud have increased and robbed people of their money and their dreams of finding the right home for themselves and their family.Rental fraud on Craigslist – The number of these type of incidents is rising and are very current. We recently heard of an example of a vacant, rehabbed home listed for sale that was targeted by con artists. Somehow, they were able to jimmy open the third party combination lockbox (not the secure realtor lockbox we use), duplicate the key, and start showing the property as a rental listed on Craigslist. One day the real listing agent went to show the property to buyers and found it suddenly occupied by “tenants” who had “rented” the house for six months. They had paid nearly $6,000 to the “owner” who had showed them the property with his copy of the key. The fake “owner” has, of course, disappeared and his phone number disconnected.

The real owner now has a lawyer to pay and court costs. The “tenants” were duped and are out thousands of dollars and have to find a new place to go when they are forced to leave. The bottom line is simple: do not trust rental listings on Craigslist. You should also:

  • Ask for proof of ownership, such as a tax bill or a copy of the deed.
  • Check the Maryland State Department of Assessment and Taxation website (MDSDAT) to find out who owns the property.
  • And if the price you’re being offered is too good to be true, most likely it is not true.Phishing scams targeting buyers – The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently issued another warning about the growth of phishing scams targeting real estate professionals’ email exchanges with clients. The CFPB offers these tips on keeping transactions safe:
  • Always identify two trusted individuals to confirm the closing process and payment instructions. If someone calls you to change arrangements, even if a trusted phone number comes up on your caller ID, say you’re busy and will call them back. Then redial the number yourself to make sure you are reaching the right party. Caller IDs can be faked very easily.
  • Avoid exchanging any details about your closing over email.
  • Before wiring money, confirm instructions-in person or phone-with your trusted representatives. Never follow instructions contained in an email.
  • Avoid using phone numbers from links contained in an email.
  • Never email financial information.
  • Be mindful of phone calls you receive. Scammers may sometimes contact a client to verify personal or financial information. Always refer back to trusted professionals to confirm.

• Report suspicious activity right away. If you suspect funds have been taken, contact your bank or title company immediately and ask for a wire recall. You can also file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

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Wayne Curtis
Wayne Curtis has been a licensed real estate agent for 23 years, serving the Baltimore region, currently with REMAX Advantage Realty. Contact him with your real estate questions,