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Jim Sweat's Blog

By Jim Sweat, ABR, CRS, CDPE, GRI | Agent in Venice, FL

Zillow Makes it Easier to Scam Homeowners


Scammers need victims, and a recent move by Zillow will make it easier for fraudsters to target the most vulnerable people in neighborhoods all over the country.

Foreclosure rescue scams target homeowners facing foreclosure with services or advice promising to stop or delay the foreclosure process. These scams prey on the vulnerability of individuals who are in danger of losing their homes. Some of these scams require homeowners to transfer their home's title or make monthly mortgage payments to the purported "rescuer." Victims may lose thousands of dollars in fabricated fees, and risk losing their homes as well.

The U.S. Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) is seeing an increase in these types of crimes, as reported in the news release dated October 9, 2012 and available here:

http://www.fincen.gov/news_room/nr/html/Q22012/20121009.html

How is Zillow making it easier?

By making pre-foreclosure information available on the web, for free, to anyone willing to sign up for a Zillow account.

That includes not only details about the house and sales history; more importantly, it provides foreclosure details such as a timeline of the foreclosure process, foreclosing loan amount, unpaid balance, the lender's name and trustee and/or attorney information.  

Yes, I am aware that all of this information is a matter of public record. Now it is also on record that I don't think it is a good idea to give scammers a map of victims and all the details they need to impersonate someone from the lender or attorney office involved. Whether they reach out by mail, phone, or in person, either way they have an advantage over someone who is suffering in a bad financial situation and may be inclined to grasp at any hope held out to them.

Zillow does acknowledge the danger, and provides a page on their site titled "Don't Fall Prey to Fraudsters".

http://www.zillow.com/foreclosures/owner/dont-fall-prey-to-foreclosure-fraudsters/

That isn't likely going to be enough protection for distressed homeowners receiving official-looking letters in the mail, or encountering smooth-talking people at their door.

Zillow wants more people using their site so they can charge real estate agents more money for ads and leads, I get it. Foreclosures are a hot topic, and anything related to distressed properties draws in eyeballs. That isn't going to change right away.

All I can do is try to get the word out that many times IT IS A WOLF at the door, and folks need to be careful about who they consult when their home and their future are at stake.

Respectfully,

 

Jim Sweat, ABR, CRS, CDPE, GRI, e-PRO, ILHM

REALTOR

Author of REAL ESTATE CSI: CONTROVERSY, SECRETS & INSIGHT (availalable early 2013)

American Realty of Venice

 

www.JimSweat.com

www.ExplainShortSales.com

www.linkedin.com/in/jimsweat

 

A Proven Professional Working for You!

18 Years Experience

 

Comments

By Kathryn Hoffman,  Fri Feb 8 2013, 03:18
Thank you for writing this.
By Alma Abreu,  Fri Feb 8 2013, 04:27
Agreed..... A sales person from Zillow called me to sign me up for an account, when I mentioned that the information they provide is tooooo far out from the truth, he said "but you already have the custome's information, now you should use it to teach them" .......... so, what is zillow, bait???
By Marilyn Emerzian, Realtor,  Fri Feb 8 2013, 05:34
I was horrified to see all that is on the site for any particular property. Too much information!
By Mary Sheridan,  Sun Feb 10 2013, 05:06
Craig's List is another easy place for people to scam. I'm getting calls from people who want to rent a house I just sold - the "owner" emailed them that the agent couldn't sell the house, wouldn't take her sign down and cooperate; he'd send keys and further info when he got their deposit. When I told those who called that this was a scam, some preferred to believe the one who told them that's what I'd say. The emails were from a man who died years ago. How many other scams are there!
By Janet Hutchison,  Sun Feb 10 2013, 06:10
Appreciate bringing this information to my attention -
By Janet Hutchison,  Sun Feb 10 2013, 06:10
Appreciate bringing this information to my attention -
By Susie Scheuber,  Sun Feb 10 2013, 07:05
I couldn't agree more. I'm receiving many calls from potential buyers thinking that the properties are for sale when they are not even listed. It is deceiving and definitely wrong all the way around.
By Simon Mills,  Sun Feb 10 2013, 07:12
Fraudsters have the information already. They are not getting it from Zillow. The bigger issue in my opinion is one from a social angle. Most people in a bind don't want their neighbors and friends knowing about their financial hardship. It's bad enough inside the home dealing with the pressures of the family this just adds fuel to a burning fire that some people just can't handle.
By NINA KESTNER McIVER,  Mon Feb 11 2013, 09:02
Again, just one more reason Zillow needs to re-think their purpose. They need to stick to demographics and put any disclosures they have IN MUCH LARGER PRINT so people will actually notice it. When it comes to value, we all know Zillow is a joke.
By Tamara Schuster Broker, Agent,  Mon Feb 11 2013, 20:57
Thank you for posting this. Home owners must be told this is going on.

Thanks for letting everyone know.

Tamara Schuster, Broker
Naperville, Illinois
By Judy Digennaro,  Tue Feb 12 2013, 06:05
You would think that Zillow would be held accountable for some of the articles on their site. Too bad they are not governed by some of the same rules and regulations agents are.
By Wayne Collier,  Tue Feb 12 2013, 16:54
I have a profile on zillow and they have been nice to me. I did tell them I would not advertise with them because anyone can sign up for an account and give "advice" without knowing who they are.
They can rip who they like,post with anonymous profiles with little and vague information. What's going on over there?
By Tracy S Stice,  Tue Feb 12 2013, 18:30
I can't believe this is on a Trulia Blog. Nothing like the pot and kettle. How about starting to blog on an NAR platform like the CRS blog, or a Rebac blog since you have both designations. If you want to diss Zillow, look at some of the stuff Trulia is doing. They take our listings, with a lot of the information being inaccurate, and sell it back to us, the same way Zillow does. They are both using MLS data, supplied by us, and selling the leads back to us , the same as our wonderful Realtor.com does. At lease Realtor.com data is up to date as they get direct RETS feeds from most MLS. Zillow probably has a contract with RealtyTrac to supply the same data that any scammers can get from any number of sites.
By Jim Sweat, ABR, CRS, CDPE, GRI,  Wed Feb 13 2013, 06:31
Tracy,
You are absolutely correct that Trulia, Zillow and several other sites make this type of information available, for the sole purpose of getting eyeballs, and then charge the agents for leads.
I have started this discussion on several of the groups that I belong to on Linkedin and it has been interesting to hear from agents around the country, and their experiences.
Zillow just happened to stand out in this post because they are actively marketing the foreclosure data, and that is a hot button in the market today. This info is available to scammers from a multitude of sources, and the owners who are being exposed as ripe for the picking need to be warned of the dangers that lurk.
By Sandra.queen,  Wed Feb 13 2013, 06:48
good article! People in forecloseure are so confused about the process anyway, they don't know what to do, who to believe and even some real estate agents still do not understand the process. Lots or erronous information out there. I had a call from a lady who was doing a Cash for Keys with my bank, we had the signed agreement, etc. She called me in a panic, saying the 'buyers' were at the door and wanted her out that week!! I tried to explain the process to her and told her she did NOT have to move out until the CFK date came. I told her to tell the 'buyers' to go away, that we//bank did not even have the property listed, she wasn't out, we could not sell it at this point. Had to be some scammers! If they could get her out, they could move in! Told her to call me back if she had any more issues with them, but have not heard back from her.
By Gareth Ellzey,  Fri Feb 15 2013, 08:12
Thanks - shared on my FB page.
By Jonathan Gibson,  Fri Feb 15 2013, 20:15
As if it was not bad enough already...
By Wenceslao Fernandez Jr,  Sat Feb 16 2013, 05:51
I don't know. Do warning labels on cigarette boxes, prescription drugs, beer cans or liquor (or even guns, if such a thing exists anywhere or is ever implemented), letting people know that the use of these products could have adverse effects, even cause death deter anyone from (mis)using them? The same probably applies here. People must learn to exercise caution, ask many questions, investigate those they are dealing with, NOT reveal any more information that that already discovered by these people, DEAL WITH THEIR LENDER FIRST in all instances, consult SEVERAL attorneys, seek and interview SEVERAL certified professional Realtors who are CDPEs, etc. Will they? I don't know. It's up to them. :-/ Your article though, is EXCELLENT. THANK YOU for bringing up to everyone's attention.
By Robert Adams Broker NV, RI, MA,  Sat Feb 16 2013, 15:36
My experience with Trulia has been MUCH better than Zillow for several reasons. ROI with Zillow is not there. The review systems is a joke. And the forum is so heavily moderated it limits the info you can share with viewers. I use both sites but I spend most of my time and advertising dollars with Trulia. my 2 cents.
By Isabel Elsesser, R.E. Pro,  Sun Feb 17 2013, 07:42
I blame the National Association of Realtors fot selling out to these companies.
Really stupid move!
By Rick Dillion,  Sun Feb 17 2013, 10:37
I have received numerous e-mails and telephone calls for people who want to see homes that are not listed because they found information on Zillow. Unfortunately, they often believe the source o,f the information, and maybe I just haven't been informed yet. I welcome calls from Zillow's visitors but it is frustrating for me and the consumers when such information is released, as it constitues false advertising and a waste of time for a lot of people.
By Jim Sweat, ABR, CRS, CDPE, GRI,  Mon Feb 18 2013, 20:23
this discussion in another group lead to Craigslist scams, here is my personal experience: I had a listing that I had NOT posted on Craigslist, only in the MLS. The seller was contacted by a friend who saw it on Craigslist for rent, recognized it, and wanted to rent it. The verbiage and photos were directly from my listing, and someone had set up a free email account using a version of the seller's name, from the tax records. It all seemed legit for a great deal on a nice rental, and was priced attractively so you were going to have to immediately wire the money to hold it until you could see it in person (the "owner"/scammer was out of town for a few days!).
The scammers are good at what they do, the only solution is to help the public be aware and vigilant.
By Ezot92,  Tue Feb 19 2013, 07:31
Trulia does the same thing. I had couple clients who called me requsting information for house from trulia, but property was sold in the midle of November 2012
By Abraham Baghbodorian,  Tue Feb 19 2013, 10:39
I totally agree with #Isabel Elsesser, It's about time for NAR and CAR (since I am in California ) to stop all listing Syndications to these companies. Not only fraud is being promoted through Zillow, Homes, Trulia and others who prey on the hard work of realtors to make profit, but NAR and all MLS's who collect membership fees from realtors and their first duty should be protecting it's realtors interests, instead they have sold out to these companies and put us in direct competition with these for profit sites.
By Ron & Diana Dahlberg,  Fri Mar 1 2013, 13:46
Thanks for alerting us to this information. The bottom line is ... we need to beware of scammers on every corner ...

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