I'm going to take a really, really unpopular position here. Brace yourselves.
Many of those consumers aren't innocent. As BuyBaltimoreProperties says, "The 3 or 4 folks who we spoke to all said they had that funny feeling that something wasn't right and there were several red flags...definitely the whole "too good to be true" thought crossed their mind."
Take a look at other postings here on Trulia, or on Zillow. Lots of consumers know there's something wrong, that it's "too good to be true," that there are numerous red flags (owner out of the country, etc.), but they do it anyway. Why? Because some of them are greedy. Some of them are bargain shoppers blinded by an impossibly good bargain. Because most are willing to overlook those red flags. And while Craigslist facilitates the scammers, Craigslist does have warnings posted all over its site about the scams. Those being scammed have read the warnings. Many have this bit of uncertainty gnawing away at them, but they overlook it because of the apparently great bargain.
And some folks are just plain stupid. Look: Imagine you want to rent a property in a distant city. (Tina makes a good point about people from out of town not knowing whether the rent should be $600 or $1,200. But most of these scams work because the renter knows it's a bargain . . . even a steal.) So what do you do? Well, maybe take a cheap flight or drive to the property to view it. Even if it's a legitimate rental, there's the question about the condition of the property, the neighborhood, etc. Doesn't it make sense to at least check a property out? Sure: Whether it's advertised on Craigslist or on Realtor.com. If you can't check it out, you have someone you trust check it out. And that means inside as well as outside. Folks: That's just plain common sense.
Bottom line: There's only so much you can do. You can yell over and over about scams and provide guidelines on how to detect them. You can tell renters what process to follow when renting. You can tell them (though you shouldn't have to) that they should check out a place before renting it. You can tell them that if it seems to be too good to be true, it probably is. You can tell them, ahem, to use a Realtor in real estate transactions. But if you do all that and they still insist on sending close to $1,000 away to someone they've never met or talked to for a place they've never seen or checked out, then a fair amount of responsibility falls on them. Yes, it's still a crime, and I'm not solely blaming the victim. But the crime was easily avoided. But a victim's greed and stupidity remain two of the criminal's best tools.
We are the professionals. It is up to us to protect consumers.
I like Annette's suggestion of posting a sign in the window. Mine might read, "This property is not advertised on Craigslist. Any posting you may have seen there is a scam." Or, how about just posting the listing in the window? This solution isn't perfect -- it will only work if the prospect is able to visit the property -- but it's a start.
""This home is FOR SALE
NOT for rent or lease or option."
#2. Include in Notice:
You MUST contact the Listing agent to avoid fraudulent activity. (123)456-7890
There is no help for those who would send money and not even visit the property where your notices are clearly displayed.
Be very much aware, the consumer DOES have a choice. They always do.
They can get there real estate data from Zillow if they choose?
They can think assessed value equals market value? IT's their choice.
They can ask for guidance from professionals or Uncle Bob?
They can go to aggregate websites notorious for predatory activity or access sites where the data has integrity. The choice is always theirs...however, ...we must accept they own the consequences also.
It isn't as if they don't know the alternatives.They aren't really 'innocent bystanders.' They impose their preferences...however illogical, and they get what they get.
The choice of using a professional always exists.
Best of success to you all,
Annette Lawrence, Broker/Associate
Remax Realtec Group, Pam Harbor, FL
Let's chat real estate at: http:///www.RealEstateMadeEZ.us
I went on Craigslist recently (which I NEVER use for my listings because of the scams) and was looking for a rental for some clients that are moving here from out of state as there is not much on the MLS now. Every other ad was an obvious scam. Rents at $600 & $700 a month with an 888 number attached for homes that would rent for at least $1,200 - I knew it was a scam. How do others that are moving from another state know? It is unreal to me how these people are allowed to do this. "Craig" needs to be more diligent with his listing process to protect the public if he expects people to take his site seriously. It is really scary to me that these crooks are able to continually pull off these scams. And most of the time, it is to innocent people that really can't afford to lose the money.
Veriftying ownership doesn't sound like something Craig Newmark would ever want to do.
But we can't change Craigslist, can we? Chances are we'll have to think of a solution we can implement ourselves.
Unfortunately there is nothing you can do. I had this start happening several years ago with every one of my listings. The scammers even set up yahoo and hot mail accounts with my persona name. I had to send notarized statements and copies of my DL to get those accounts shut down.
I tried to get a story out on the local news and they never returned my e-mails. I contacted local authorities who couldn't help. And I even had a computer specialist track the IP addresses to Nigeria but no one could take effective action.
I let my web visitors know that if a deal looks too good to be true, if the owner can not show you the house in person or via a representative and if they ask you to wire money in exchange for keys it is most definitely a scam.
The problem is real and your intentions are well intended.....but, as others have indicated a good solution is not easily come by.
At this point, probably our best approach is to warn people that need to use these services that great care should be taken to avoid being exploited. This may not be the best approach but for now it should help.
The scammers post the addresses when they send follow-up emails. Look them up online, either through real estate websites or even your county assessorâ€™s or deeds websites. Renters can find out who the actual owner is or the realtor in charge of the property. Scammers even supply their supposed names, and in some cases the â€œgood willâ€ organizations they work for. Renters can perform searches on that information to see if anyone else has had any propblems them.
Make Craigslist become the scammers worst nightmare. Since it's free to set up an account ( in most cases), if anyone comes across a scam ad, create a post on Craigslist with the full details of what you found out. Include the name the inidividual gave, as well as, any other pertinent inofrmation.
It does seem likely that this is a nationwide problem, so perhaps getting NAR involved is the way to go. But that begs the question: Is there something NAR can do about it? If it were to lean on Craig, what would NAR want him to do? What would NAR want law enforcement officials to do?
I like the warnings Keith and Shannon French insert in their listings, but it seems pretty easy for a con artist to remove them when re-posting on Craigslist. Maybe there's a more subtle way? One that only renters can see? A shibboleth!
It's been over a year since we've heard of anyone fall for one, but about two years ago, we got a call about once a quarter by someone who got duped...one was waiting outside the home with her moving truck full of her stuff waiting for someone to deliver the keys. She was just in tears when we broke her the bad news.
The 3 or 4 folks who we spoke to all said they had that funny feeling that something wasn't right and there were several red flags...definitely the whole "too good to be true" thought crossed their mind. Each of them lost anywhere from $700-$900 to them directly (I'm sure they suffered many indirect costs as well).
These scams are prolific because they are making money for the scammers...in other words, people are falling for them every day. Otherwise they wouldn't do it. I'm convinced they've profiled the most likely "sucker" and understand the price point that people are willing to risk to trust some religion affiliated stranger. It's sad because that target includes those that are backed up against the wall or distressed in some way...a time when it's more likely they'll compromise on their better judgement.
We've had a cop friend look into it and ultimately saw nothing could be done. We just flag the ads & get anyone who sees them to flag it as well. We advertise on all of our listings to never wire funds overseas and any other listing advertising this for less is not legitimate. Now we're seeing the scam ads include something warning of scams as well.
As others have mentioned, it's a peril of a free service. Charging for listings is probably the only way to minimize the scams.
Even if we stop using Craigslist; the scammers will steal our listings off Realtor.com or some other site. Best we can do is flag them as spam; but heck - that could be a full-time job!