The Silicon Valley Association of Realtors issued a warning to consumers about a scam by individuals fraudulently posing as landlords and misrepresenting vacant properties for lease.
Officials from SILVAR, the local trade association representing more than 4,000 realtors and affiliate members on the Peninsula and in the South Bay, said they have received reports from members of the fraud by “imposter landlords.”
The recent economic downturn has left many families displaced and in need of rental housing, according to SILVAR representatives, leading to unscrupulous persons preying on their misfortune.
SILVAR officials explained the swindle: Using various websites, the scam artists advertise a home for rent, when the property is actually for sale. Prospective tenants who call the phone number provided in the false advertisement are then directed to provide an application fee and rental deposit immediately if they want to lease the rental unit.
The fraud is discovered once prospective tenants contact the actual listing agent to gain access to view the property. By this time, money has already changed hands.
Law enforcement authorities have been notified of attempted scams.
“It is tragic that people continue to prey on consumers who are in need of a place to rent. Potential renters are convinced to pay deposits and rent to unscrupulous people who take the money and run, with the tenant left wondering what -happened and with no funds to rent another property,” said SILVAR President Suzanne Yost.
Yost recommended that consumers verify the owner of the property they intend to rent and heed guidance issued by the California Department of Real Estate (DRE). The DRE last year issued a warning about “imposter landlords” and provides the following guidance to protect consumers from this type of hoax.
• Ask anyone offering a house for rent to provide proof that they own the house and to show their government-issued picture identification. Then scrutinize the proof of ownership as well as the identifications, because there is also the risk that their identifications are false.
• If you suspect that you are dealing with an owner or landlord representative, check with the DRE to see if that representative or agent is licensed. A real estate license is required, with some narrow exceptions, for a person to offer a house for rent as an agent of the owner. Check the license records on the DRE website (www.dre.ca.gov) and verify that you are working with legitimate licensees.
• If you are an existing tenant, check with the County Recorder’s office to verify the property’s owner of record. If the house has been foreclosed on, contact the new owner and confirm with the current owner the person to whom you should be forwarding your rental payments.
If you feel you have dealt with a swindler in the area of a housing rental or have been defrauded in connection with a rental, call the DRE at (510) 622-2552.