Scammers are lurking around every nook of the internet looking for easy targets. Without taking precautions, they will use your legitimate available property listings to set their traps. To help protect the public, not to mention save yourself from an annoying waste of time, continue reading to learn one secret that has virtually eliminated scammers from using our listings in their wicked schemes.
Actual Rental Scam
One day, a nice couple walked into our office and said, “Hi. We’re here to pick up the keys for 123 Cheswick St. We’re the new tenants.”
To which we replied, “We haven’t rented 123 Cheswick St. It’s still on the market. Are you sure you’re not mistaken?”
“Oh, no. We’re dealing directly with the landlord. We applied, paid a deposit, and signed a lease with them, and they told us that we could just stop by here to get the keys.”
That’s when we had to break the sad news to them that they had fallen victim to an overseas scammer and not only did they not have a house to move into, but their deposit was virtually unrecoverable.
How the rental scam works
You post a property (let’s say 555 Main St) for rent. You write up the best ad copy of your life and post beautiful photos that you took with your fancy camera. The rent is set at $1,500 monthly with a deposit of $1,500.
The scammer finds your property on Zillow.com. They proceed to copy all of your photos and the text of your advertisement. They then do a simply public records search to find out what the property owner’s name is (let’s say John Smith). They then go to a free email site like Gmail.com and create an email address firstname.lastname@example.org. Then they create an account on Craigslist.org using the new Gmail email address they created, they post a rental ad on the account using your photos and the exact same ad copy. But here’s how they hook victim: They pull the old “to good to be true” deal so that people don’t ask questions. The rent, instead of being the market price of $1,500, is $800.
Lovely Jim and Pam are searching through Craigslist one night and find their perfect home and WOW, the price is amazing! They quickly email the owner John to inquire. John’s email will go something strikingly similar to this:
“Hi Jim & Pam! Thank you for your interest in our rental home on 555 Main St. It is a great house. All of the details are in the advertisement. I would be happy to show it to you, but I am a [insert Christian missionary, or member of Doctors without Borders, or Peace Corp Member] and am out of the country in [insert some poor 3rd world country] helping drill fresh water wells so the poor children have clean water to drink. You are welcome to drive by the house and look in the windows. By the way, we were using a property management company but had a horrible experience and just recently fired them yesterday. You may still see their for rent sign in the yard since I doubt they’ve had a chance to pick it up yet, but they are no longer involved so please do not call them. Please let me know if you would like to apply to rent the property and I’ll send you the application”
Jim and Pam go look at the property and love it. They fill out the “owner’s” application to which, shockingly, they are instantly approved. All they have to do now is wire $800 to the owner in the 3rd world country and he’ll mail them the keys.
This scam happens every day to people of all ages. While it has all the markings of a scam on it to most reasonable thinking people, the allure of such a great low price makes some people ignore their gut feelings and they send the money never to be seen again.
How to prevent this with your listings
As simple as the design of the scam is, the solution to keep your listings from being used is even simpler.
Watermark your photos!
If you’re not sure what a watermark is, it’s the light color text or logos that you sometimes see overlaid onto photos like this one:
A watermark is embedded into the photo and cannot be removed. Simply put your company name or logo through the middle of the photo and the scammers won’t want to use your photos. The only way their scam works is if they can prevent the consumer from calling you to inquire about the property. They don’t want your name or phone number anywhere near the fake advertisement. Since you’ve watermarked the photos with it, they will simply move on and find another advertisement that doesn’t have watermarks to use in their scam. Easy, right?
Watermarking is easy and with all the free solutions out there, it only cost you a couple extra minutes each time you post a listing. You can do it online for free at http://picmarkr.com/. It will only let you do 5 photos at a time, but it’s quick and easy to repeat the steps for all of your listing photos. Other free watermarking software products which you can download to your computer include Watermark Pro (for Mac) or uMark Free Watermark Software.
Tip: When you watermark, make sure that it goes through the middle of the photo (like the example above) and not at the top or bottom. Otherwise the scammer will just crop your watermark out.
What are the some other tips you have to keep scammers from using your listings?