Back in January I wrote an article for www.AgentGenius.com, called The Setup, The Pitch and the (Agent’s) Stolen Identity. This outlined a new threat to agents who have active listing, wherein people took your listing information and fraudulently relisted the house as a rental on Craigslist. The post showed the email exchange between the victim, as well as a passport and rental agreement. At the time, the FBI was contacted and they advised that there was little they could do.
In June Sarah Stelmok journaled her interaction with an internet scammer, matching the same profile. You can read more at www.Sarahiouslyspeaking.com, in her article entitle “Internet Real Estate Scam Update”.
Needless to say, both of these articles are “must reads” so that you can better protect yourself and your clients. It’s important for agents to be far more vigilant than they currently are. Below is a Press Release from the FBI released in July that gives more information on this current trend.
For Immediate Release
July 22, 2009
Contact: Public Affairs Specialist Denise Taiste
David A. Thomas, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in South Carolina, advises homeowners and/or prospective renters in South Carolina to be cautious of a new scheme being perpetrated by Nigerians utilizing Craigslist.
Homeowners list their homes for sale with real estate agents, who will list the homes for sale in the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and also with public search websites, which allow individuals to query homes for sale via the Internet. Nigerian scammers find homes listed for sale on these public search sites, copy the pictures and listings verbatim, and then post the information onto Craigslist under available housing rentals, without the consent or knowledge of Craigslist, who has been notified.
After the posting is listed, unsuspecting individuals contact the poster, who is Nigerian, for more information on the “rental." The Nigerian scammer will state that they had to leave the country very quickly to do missionary or contract work in Africa and were unable to rent their house before leaving, therefore they have to take care of this remotely. The “homeowner” sends the prospective renter an application and tells them to send them first and last month’s rent to the Nigerian scammer via Western Union. The prospective renter is further told If they “qualify,” they will send them the keys for their house. Once the money is wired to the scammer, they show up at the house, see the home is actually for sale, are unable to access the property, and their money is gone.
This type of Nigerian scam is becoming more prevalent nationwide and recent reports indicate this scam being perpetrated locally in Charleston, Columbia, and Hilton Head, South Carolina. The South Carolina Association of REALTORS®, a non-profit trade association, provided information to the FBI on this scam.
David A. Thomas, Special Agent in Charge of the Columbia office of the FBI, is requesting that individuals who have complaints similar to this file an Internet crime complaint on www.ic3.gov with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to ensure the extent of this scheme can be accurately evaluated.
This is not a sign, as some have suggested, that agents should not aggressively market the listings on line. The benefits of good online presence far out weighs the potentially bad outcomes. However, like so many other aspects of real estate it does present a risk. Agents should be well aware of where their properties are being advertised. I give a few hints in the AgentGenius.com post.