Classifieds Ripe For Rental Fraud

I once listed a property for rent on Craigslist that scammers ended up relisting for a third of my asking price. People would pull into my driveway and knock on my door while the listing was active and even after the listing I posted had expired too.

Business Insider reports, “Since lenders have tightened their requirements for getting a mortgage—which is making it harder to buy a home—the rental market is hot right now. Turns out, so is the online identity theft market, which is why it’s no surprise that identity thieves are attacking people who are looking to rent.”

Here’s how the scam often works. The scammer copies and pastes the ad and poses as the homeowner, who is conveniently away traveling on business overseas. In order to generate traffic, the scammer lists the ad for much less than is being asked. When people respond to the ad, the scammer tells them they can rent it out—all they have to do is forward him the first month’s rent via a money wire overseas. Some people will want to drive by to get a look without actually going in, and that’s enough for them to send the money.

The way I thwarted this crime under my watch was to continually scan Craigslist for keywords related to my ad to see if it was being posted by a scammer. When I discovered a fraudulent post, I emailed with the link. Craigslist was very responsive and took the posts down. The scammer was equally diligent, however: I had to do this almost 20 times during the period I was renting out the apartment.

How can you protect yourself from scams like this, or other scams that take advantage of online classified ads?

  • Use common sense, be smart and pay attention. If you do that, you won’t fall for these types of cons.
  • Be very careful who you contact and who contacts you. You never know who the person is or what his or her motivation may be.
  • Whenever possible, deal locally. People who cannot meet you in your town are more likely to be scammers. And even when you do meet in person, you still should be wary.
  • Never engage in online transactions involving credit cards, cashier’s checks, money orders, personal checks, Western Union, MoneyGram, cash or anything that requires you to send money to a stranger in response to money he or she has sent you. This is known as an advance fee scam.
  • Be smart. Don’t disclose your financial information, including account or Social Security number, for any reason. Look out! Scammers will say anything in order to get this information.

Many classified sites stop fraudulent ads from being published in the first place by incorporating device-based intelligence that helps them assess risk upfront. Fraud prevention technology offered by iovation Inc. not only helps these sites identify repeat offenders coming in under multiple fake identities, but also detects when scammers are attempting to place multiple fraudulent ads using a variety of computers, tablets and smartphones to do so. This greatly helps rid these sites of undesirables and protects their valued members.

Robert Siciliano, personal security and identity theft expert contributor to iovation. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Mobile was Hacked! See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video. Disclosures.