The Santa Clara County Association of Realtors issued a warning to local realtors and the public regarding a scam that is affecting the real estate community at the local and national levels.
In recent months, a number of real estate professionals in Silicon Valley and throughout the country have reported that their for-sale listings are being turned into for-rent ads by an unauthorized third party. The for-rent ads are posted on craigslist.org, forrentbyowner.com, Trulia and apartments.com.
When potential renters respond to the for-rent advertisement, the perpetrator explains that the home is unavailable to show or can’t be shown at the time, then offers an unbelievably low price to lure people in. Enticed, many fill out the counterfeit rental application including private, confidential information such as Social Security numbers and birthdates. Sometimes, potential renters are even convinced to place a deposit on the house or apartment.
The unsuspecting consumers who thought they had a new place to call home suddenly find themselves duped. They’re out of the money and their identity has been compromised. It’s not until later that they learn the home they negotiated and planned to move into was never available for rent.
“A lot of realtors have been affected by this,” said Carl San Miguel, president of the county association. “We want the real estate community and the general public to know that it’s a hoax. By creating awareness, we can hopefully reduce the number of people affected by the scam in the future.”
Lisa Blaylock of Coldwell Banker in San Jose said she has experienced the scheme on four properties she represented in the past few months. She put a message on her voicemail informing callers that if they are inquiring about a property for rent, it is a scam.
According to realtors, consumers should be skeptical if they are:
• Quoted a price that is too good to be true.
• Asked for a substantial deposit before the property has even been shown or the keys are handed over.
• Asked to wire money.
• Receiving communications via email only and the alleged realtor is located elsewhere, out of town or even out of the country.
Consumers can protect themselves by:
• Having the person they’re communicating with show them the property first. They have a right to view the real estate in person.
• Driving by the property to check for a For Sale sign. Often the sign will disappear from the yard soon after an ad goes on the Internet advertising the property as a rental.