Phishing Bait...

By
Real Estate Agent with Century 21 Results Realty

Those of you that are FaceBook friends may already know this...  I had a listing hi-jacked by a scammer.  It has kind of ticked me off. 

The backstory...

One morning I got 3 calls in a row asking me about renting one of my listings.  Since it isn't available for rent, I was curious as to why there was a flurry of sudden activity.  However, since I was at my youngest son's school for a program they were putting on, I wasn't able to investigate immediately.  The last caller was pretty upset with me that I wouldn't talk to him about renting the property... 

About 30 minutes later, while enjoying the pot-luck lunch marking the last part of the program, the last caller called back.  He apologized for getting cross with me and told me he found the listing again.  He had been pretty miffed at me and decided he was going to tell the owner of the property that I refused to talk with him about renting it.  But when he found the rental listing again, he remembered that my name wasn't on it.  He had done some digging to find my name in the first place, since the person whose name WAS on the listing didn't have a phone number and hadn't responded to emails. 

So, he looked up the tax record... thinking that the other name might be the owner.  It wasn't.  That was about the time he guessed it was a scam and thought to call me back and apologize.  He also gave me all of the info I needed in order to track down (as much as possible) the person responsible.  And going above and beyond, he followed up with me as the listing popped up again with a different telephone number after I squashed it. 

The frontstory...

The venue that this particular "Phisherman" is using is Postlets.  For the same reasons that we agents love syndication sites like Postlets, scammers love them, too.  Enter the data once, and it gets syndicated to dozens of popular sites, or more.  In this case, the curious renter found it on Trulia.  I flagged it on Trulia and on Postlets as a scam listing.  Of course, one of the issues is that my actual sales listing is on Trulia, too... as well as Zillow and a bunch of other places that are syndicated through the MLSs, Century 21, my broker, etc. 

Trulia and Zillow/Postlets only took a few hours to respond that they had each pulled the listing. 

As stated above, the next morning, it was back.  Again I made the rounds and killed it at Postlets, Trulia, HotPads and some other rental sites.  I got quick replies from most... but one was absent on a reply that things had been handled... and unfortunately, it was the one that had the most power... the one where the syndication was taking place... Zillow/Postlets.

I asked them if they had a way that they could block further attempts to post the property.  I was told that it was impossible.  Not happy... 

What SHOULD happen...

As I see it, there are several problems:

  • The perpetrators are almost untouchable.  They are praying upon the dumb and the desperate... those that are willing to email their financial information to someone without EVER have met or even possibly talked with them on the phone.  And they are very likely NOT in the US.  Since we don't have the ability to call in a drone strike, nor send a SEAL team to deal with them, we are left with stopping them from posting...
  • There are no checks on WHO can post a property.  The account for this clown was suspended, but 12 hours later, he was back... same address, same name, different phone number.  At no point is there a backcheck to see if it is a verified person creating the account or posting. 
  • Nobody is willing to take responsibility... 
  • The MLSs won't allow us to identify ourselves in our listings so that the feed is more valuable to other services... IDX, scraper sites, aggregators, etc. 

But there ARE solutions. 

  • Can't do too much about a foreign entity operating illegally in the US.  So, we have to make the operation less profitable.  I thnk that the way to do that is to choke off their ability to find suckers. 
  • The first step in doing that is to limit WHO can post properties.  And I think it is incumbant on the syndication services to know WHERE they are getting these listings.  In the case of those coming off of an MLS, there is a pretty solid certainty that they are real.  In the case of "owner entered" or even "agent entered" listings, that certainty is gone.  I'm not one for government intervention, and I don't think it is needed here.  I think it takes Corporate Responsibility. 
    • Charge for access for individuals to post up... agents and owners should pay.  The US Post Office charges $1 to electronically file a Change of Address form.  Do they make money with it?  No.  It is because THEN, they have bank info that is tied to a real person.  Otherwise, I could set up an anonymous email account and create havoc with changing addresses of people that anoy me.  Credit Card/Debit Card... NOT PayPal... unless it is linked and verified. 
    • Back-check posters.  When someone creates a new account, verify the phone number.  Call it.  Talk to them.  My web host called me and talked to me.  That was after I paid them.  They wanted to make sure that there was a REAL person there and that I wasn't a front for a scam.  I don't know why Postlets can't do the same... 
    • Build filters.  How the heck could someone post up with the same name... probably from the same computer... with the same address just a couple of hours after having his account terminated?  Why not filter for address, name, IP... something. 
  • And while the MLSs won't allow us to identify ourselves, perhaps we SHOULD put language in our descriptions like "This home is NOT available for rent.  Please flag any listing where you see this home offered for rent."  In the case of my stolen listing, the dirtbag was using the pictures from the MLS and my description.  Word for word.  I wouldn't be shocked if they very same language owuld show up in a stolen listing. 
  • And while we are on MLSs... both of the local MLSs have required that we give up rights to our photos.  That is a whole different blog post, but THIS is exactly WHY they say we need to GIVE them the rights... and it is exactly why we SHOULD NOT.  Do you think that the MLS is going to go after these people for stealing copyrighted images?  Or do you think that it would be more likely that a pissed off agent or broker might do that?  Copyright Law has an international component... and it is VERY difficult and expensive to pursue, which is why MLSs won't do it.  And most agents won't, either.  But if some of the above reforms were to take place, tracking the entities responsible would be easier... going after them for financial damages would also be easier. 

The only real way to hit these people back is by crippling their ability to "do business".  Their business is stealing, and they are stealing from us, stealing from our clients and stealing from people that could potentially be our clients.  Further, who do you think gets the first look when one of these low-lifes swipes someone's identity?  The police will start looking at the agents that have had listings stolen, and the owners of the property.  Even though WE had nothing to do with it, WEare the first ones that have to prove ourselves. 

Unfortunately, we also no longer have the power to stop where our listings go in order to pressure the big syndicators.  We just have to suck it up and raise a stink after the fact. 

 

BTW, just as a note, I know some folks at Zillow.  They are fine people.  I don't think ill of them, or even the company.  I just think that they, and others, need to find a way to get back in front of the abuses of the system they created.  If they wait until there are laws in place to "protect us", the laws will damage them more than being pro-active would have...

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Rainmaker
1,174,698
David Spencer
Keller Williams Northland - Kansas City, MO
Show Me real estate in Kansas City

Very informative post and will be an incentive to track some activity on my listings.

Mar 18, 2013 05:46 AM #1
Rainmaker
89,766
Diane Plant
Forest Hill Real Estate Inc, Brokerage - Toronto, ON
Broker, TorontoHomeSearch: Forest Hill Real Estate

This is shocking but individuals from foreign countries have a lot of tricks up their sleeves and more keep popping up daily. My latest encounter was with a PayPal scam looking for personal info as well as a Social Insurance Number (for Canadians). I contacted PayPal with the IP address

Mar 18, 2013 07:32 AM #2
Rainmaker
664,732
Christine Bohn
RE/MAX Professionals - Gainesville, FL
The Bohn Team, Gainesville FL

Lane - this is very good info.  I haven't seen much of the rental phishing in our area, but I have heard stories like yours.  I agree there has to be a way to protect the "listings integrity" and the consumers that fall prey to the scammers.

Mar 18, 2013 10:52 AM #3
Rainmaker
1,428,654
Gene Riemenschneider
Home Point Real Estate - Brentwood, CA
Turning Houses into Homes

Nice to see you around Lane.  I think you make some good points.  I talked to my board about quality control for companies that want to use our MLS data.  This may get some of these 3rd parties in line.

Mar 22, 2013 03:34 AM #4
Rainer
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favour balaka
Anch, AK


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Mar 22, 2013 07:59 AM #5
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