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Protect Yourself from Online Real Estate Fraud

Internet fraud is an epidemic that does not discriminate who it targets! From phone, internet, and email scams, to mortgage fraud, real estate fraud, and identity theft, consumers have to stay on high alert.  Currently, a common scam that is circulating the Internet is fraudulent listings, and it primarily affects renters.  Whether you are a Realtor or a consumer looking for a vacation rental, apartment, or rental home, it is crucial to recognize the issue and protect yourself or your clients from falling subject to these scams.

The running scam that is prevalent around Houston, as well as a number of places throughout the country, involves fraudulent rental listings on sites that allow anyone to post to them, such as Craigslist and  Scammers are using pictures and information from actual listings and posting them as a rental property on these sites at a significantly lower price.  Interested consumers contact the culprits who pose as the owner of the home.  Typically, the “owner” will claim to be out of the state, usually out of the country, and suggests that the potential renter drives by the home to view the exterior.  Then, they offer to over night the keys in exchange for the first month’s rent and a deposit, which must be wired.

Unfortunately, this scenario has not raised the suspicion of many consumers, so the scam continues to impact people across the country.  However, there are several indications that will  help consumers recognize when they are being scammed.

  1. Scammers will always instruct the prospect to wire money.
  2. Prior to signing the lease, a scammer will normally request the security deposit, first month’s rent, or both.
  3. They always claim to be out of the country for one reason or another.


If you encounter a situation that encompasses any of these suspicious activities, avoid falling victim by following these tips.

  1. Check the property’s appraisal rolls to verify the owner’s name.  Keep in mind, this is not fail proof.  Savvy scammers check these records to retrieve the owner’s name, and create a fake email address in that name.
  2. Never rent a property from someone who you have not met in person.
  3. If the alleged homeowner claims to be out of town, go to the home and knock on the door.  Try several times over the next few days if no one answers.  If you don’t have any luck, find a neighbor who might be able to validate the story.
  4. Look at the sign in the yard, and make sure it is listed “For Lease” and not “For Sale”.  If there is contact information on the sign, call the number.
  5. Conduct a property search on the local MLS, Trulia, Zillow, and other real estate listing websites. If you find a current listing, verify that it is listed as a rental property.  Contact the Realtor or homeowner if their contact information is visible.
  6. If you still have suspicion, don’t risk it!  Report the incident, and continue your home search!


Technology advancements, such as Google Alerts, enhance the ability to spot potential threats by allowing a user to closely monitor a specific property.  Agents who set up a Google Alert for their listings will receive emails every time the property is found on the internet.  Execute the following steps to set up a Google Alert for your listing.

  1. Enter in your web browser.
  2. Type the property address in the “Search Query” box.
  3. Select “Everything” in the “Result Type” menu.
  4. Choose your language.
  5. Select “United States” as the “Region”.
  6. Opt to receive alerts “Once a Day” in the section titled “How Often”.
  7. In the “How Many” section, choose “All Results”.
  8. Type your email in the space provided next to “Your Email”.
  9. Click on “Create Alert”.


After the Google Alert has been set up, the user will receive notification of any searches related to the property address, as well as any websites that post the listing.  Scrutinize any suspicious activity to determine a threat, and immediately report any fraudulent listings to the appropriate website and the local MLS association.

Of course, hiring a respected real estate agent will help you avoid these issues.  If you would like to consult with an experienced, knowledgable, and reputable agent in your area, click here!  Connect Realty boasts some of the most esteemed real estate agents around the country who implement the most innovative technology and resources to facilitate the home buying and selling process!


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