One byproduct of the current pandemic’s impact on real estate is the increase in the incidence of online housing scams. Although such scams have been taking place for years, the shift to virtual transactions has exacerbated the problem. Needless to say, more people are renting and even buying properties without seeing them in person.
How do scammers accomplish this?
Unfortunately, these types of scams are not terribly difficult for criminals. For starters, they typically find active listings for rent or sale and simply copy the information. They then re-post the ads as rentals and change a few details, such as a contact name for more information. In general, they post a rental price that is typically below the market average for comparable area rentals to create a sense of urgency for renters who want to move quickly. In fact, a price that’s too good to be true is usually the first red flag renters be aware of. The same can be applied to properties for sale.
How to avoid scams
When viewing listings for rent or for sale, you should look for a few common signs of a scam. Below are a few:
- typos or excessive punctuation
- the absence of a screening process
- a request to wire money up-front without a contract
- money required via a payment link for a pre-payment credit check
As always, it is strongly recommended to work with an active and knowledgeable real estate agent in the area that you are looking in. In addition, it is advisable to view properties in person whenever feasible. Of course, proper precautions such as social distancing and the use of facial coverings are highly recommended. If an in-person showing is not an option, oftentimes your local real estate agent should be able to be able to accommodate a virtual tour utilizing various technologies such as Google Duo or iOS FaceTime.
Should you discover fraudulent listings, it is strongly recommended that you report them to the proper authorities who can investigate and resolve the issue, including the Federal Trade Commission, the Internet Crime Complaint Center, as well as local law enforcement agencies. In the end, it pays to have a trusted, local real estate professional to guide you through any real estate transactions.