The OC Housing Specialist® Ultimate Guide to Buying, Selling, & Renting in Southern California

Beware: Craigslist/HotPads Rental Listings Scam

Fair warning: This blog post contains elements of virtual time travel. Proceed with caution.

To me, being a great agent means looking at the world from my client’s point of view. I treat each and every transaction as if it were my own. In my ideal world, every professional in every area would naturally act in this way.
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In my ongoing effort to connect with clients and walk in their shoes, I spend my days looking at the world as a potential buyer/seller/leasee would. I use the internet and other resources just as my potential clients do to locate properties and research them. Being able to see the world from my client’s perspective keeps me true to my roots. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that I was the client.

My personal relationship with real estate goes back, back, back into the 1980s. You see, I was born into a working class family with a love for real estate investment. My grandfather worked long days at a factory to provide for his family. Every penny saved was invested into real estate so that one day, his grandchildren would be the first in the family to be able to afford university attendance. As his family grew, he purchased investment properties with those saved pennies for each of his 12 grandchildren. The income from those properties then funded college educations over the next 25 years.

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Now let’s bring it to present day – well technically present day minus one. Yesterday, I was looking at craigslist (and hotpads) for current rental houses in my market. [Yes, I’m aware that I was working on the weekend but as my clients know, I am always on the clock.] I noticed there were a lot of new listings with low prices. I thought to myself, “This is great – maybe our market is becoming more affordable with more supply of houses!”

My mind flashed back to last summer. Receiving 30 rental applications in the first day of a house being listed. The bidding wars increasing the rental rate to $3500 for a modest 4 bedroom house (sans upgrades). Essays with photo albums being submitted to try to sway a landlord’s decision. Too few houses, too much demand. :/

Back to the present. As I’m looking at the listed properties, I’m getting a sense I’ve seen these properties before. But how? The websites are showing they were JUST listed in the past 24 hours. Hmm. My bat-sense (er, um, agent-sense) tells me to dig a little deeper.

This is where I’m grateful to have a trusted agent on my side -*grin*- but seriously, this istrusted_agent.gif where I am grateful I have access to the actual MLS database. I log in and search for the properties listed on the rental websites. Low and behold, they ARE listed on the MLS but at MUCH higher prices (actual market value prices). The photos are the same, the addresses are the same, the descriptions are similar if not the same.

Now the really scary part of this is: If I wasn’t an agent familiar with the local inventory and MLS access to confirm it, these would’ve appeared to be valid rentals. Even as a cautious person who googled the addresses for a “scam check”, it would have simply looked like a price cut on a valid rental listing. It was setup to look legit (no foreign princesses or inheritances involved).

Ah-ha! It’s a scam, but to what end?

I’m going to mention here that I was an investigative journalist in my college years. I really have a knack for getting to the heart of issues and finding truth. This has served me well, and in some cases, a little too well. Eh, popularity is overrated within the unethical crowd anyways, right?!

So, I set out to figure out WHY this scam was operating. After all, this could really damage my potential clients in a few possible ways. Could it be an unscrupulous marketing incorrect prices to get new client leads? An identity thief harvesting private information? In my experience, it is usually one of those two. And hey, if they are legit, I’ll get to talk to the group of sellers and figure out why they have decided to dually list their properties at different prices. Win-win for knowledge all around! I did what anyone would do when they see a killer bargain…I contacted the original posters (which all had different email addresses). And waited….

Then it came…

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….a link to collect private information through a fake “credit report” required to view the properties. Plus, it appears that all of my emails that were sent to different posters had been forwarded to a single email account which then auto-replied with the above generic email. Yikes – this appears to be setup to hide the virtual paper trail for any potential legal proceedings.

And so my optimism about a widening supply of affordable rental houses was squashed. However, gratitude and empowerment has replaced it! I am feeling very grateful to have the tools and access to uncover this scam. And empowered to help others avoid this type of scam, with it’s accompanying heartache/loss of time/effort.

The moral of the story? As these scammers get more creative and the legal territory to pursue them gets mucky for enforcement, it’s just not worth it to do it on your own. It could take years to remedy an identity theft issue on your credit. YEARS. And if you are a buyer or leasee, it is FREE for you to have a licensed real estate agent to get you into your next home or commercial space. FREE. Go find an agent you can trust and communicate with – then let them do their job for you!

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This entry was posted on April 11, 2016 by in Buying, DIY, Finance, For Sale By Owner, Investment, Relocation, Renting.
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