When contemplating any real estate transaction, you should be extremely cautious with whom you conduct business to avoid potential real estate scams. Be especially cautious before considering dealing with people online that you do not know. It is important to work with only credible and ethical businesses when conducting real estate transactions.
Distressed Property Scams
Disreputable people often target individuals in the middle of a stressful short sale, foreclosure or bankruptcy. These individuals may ask you to sign over the title of your home as part of the ‘process’.
Some property owners have been convinced to sign their title over to someone else who wants to help you stay in your home. They may make promises to pay the mortgage payments while allowing you to stay in your home by renting from them. The homeowner may not have been aware that even if he/she signs the title over, they are still responsible for the outstanding mortgage on the property.
Renters Are Subject to Scams Too
There has been a wave of what is being termed ‘ad hijacking’. Scammers find actual property listed for sale on legitimate websites, copy the photographs and property descriptions and post the property for rent –often on Craigslist.org. The scammer provides an email address purporting to the owner.
What the Scam Does
These scammers usually ask the applicant to wire money for the deposit with the promise they will get the key upon receipt of the deposit. The applicant may wire the money thinking they have found a great deal and the key never comes.
In addition, the scammer may send a rental application asking for your name, address, phone numbers, DOB, driver’s license number or other personally identifiable information. With this information, you are a target for identity theft.
How to Protect Yourself
- Deal with known, reputable businesses.
- Never rent property sight unseen.
- Never wire money – especially out of the country.
- Never email your personal information to a stranger.
Be Diligent to be Safe
Insist on viewing the property. Never rent property sight unseen. Meet the landlord. Insist on phone numbers, addresses and contact information so you can verify the business or owner information.
Check the address. If someone has stolen an ad, the chances are the property will show up as a result of an Internet search. If the property is being handled by an agency or someone other than the individual you have been in contact with, contact the listing agency and ask questions. Tell them where you saw the property listed.
If you do business online which is often the case with vacation rentals, deal only with legitimate, known and identifiable businesses. If you are renting a vacation property online, look the address up on Google Maps and see if the property exists. Confirm the property’s location is as described.
Apartment Listing Scams
The Orange County Register recently reported police raided an unlicensed rental-listing agency due to fraudulent activities. Rental applicants were paying $200 to receive listings of available rental property. The properties listed were either listed without the landlord’s knowledge or were not vacant properties or priced higher than listed.
As more and more people compete for rental property – especially in high cost areas – these scams will continue.
Winter Park attorney Eric Lanigan of Lanigan and Lanigan, P.L., works with clients who have suffered at the hands of scammers. Any individual entering into any complex real estate transaction should consult an attorney. Scheduling a formal legal consultation is the only way to understand your legal options when dealing with real estate fraud.