PEOPLE | CULTURE | HAPPENINGS
Things You Need to Know
Real Estate Scams
BY MARY MARGARET McEACHERN
A homeowner hears noise on the porch, and looks out to see a car in the driveway and behind it, a
rental truck. A couple of people are trying to gain entry, some peering in the windows. Following a fran-tic
call to 911 the police arrive only to learn the “perpetrators” they just handcuffed believe they are the
rightful tenants of a house they paid a fat deposit to rent without ever setting foot inside. But the house
is not available for rent — it’s actually for sale — and the homeowner wasn’t the person who received
the electronically transferred deposit from the erstwhile tenants who viewed pirated photos of the prop-erty
online and were scammed out of thousands of dollars in security and first month’s rent deposits.
THE already high demand for affordable housing, specifically rentals, has grown dramatically in the wake of Hurricane Florence.
Displaced residents still seek temporary housing pending restoration of their homes. Hundreds of renters need alternative
affordable arrangements, and they needed this yesterday. Need, when coupled with the increasing availability of online infor-mation,
tempts people to bypass Realtors in favor of direct online research which, unfortunately, subjects them to victimization
by someone intent on cheating, swindling, deceiving, tricking, duping, hoodooing another, known as scamming.
“Historically, scams have been the worst on Craigslist,” says Meghan Riley, team administrator of the Cameron Team, part of Coldwell Banker Sea
Coast Advantage. “But since the hurricane, there has been an uptick on Facebook, especially within rental and sale groups. It happens most fre-quently
with long-term rentals more than 90 days.”
The increasingly popular Nextdoor app provides another platform for scammers. The property looks
legitimate, but the scammer has copied and pasted photos of a legitimate listing to create a fake ad.
“Images are ripe for the picking,” says Casey Roman, investigative reporter for WECT TV and docu-mentary
film producer. “Scammers are savvy; they right-click images from legitimate sites like Zillow,
then post them onto their own ads.”
Rent scam scenarios follow similar patterns. First, prospective tenants conduct an online search via
Craigslist or a similar service. When they respond to the ad, they might be contacted by an individual
who claims to be out of town or otherwise unavailable to show the property. The contact might supply
an address and invite the prospect to drive by for an exterior viewing.
If a request for an interior showing elicits a demand for an immediate advance deposit and/or the first
One homeowner is fighting back,
warning prospects with signage that
this house is not for rent.
march 2019 16