Saturday, May 4, 2013

Zillow Rental Scam Hits Tucson

I expect that most landlords have received poorly written emails from people who claim in bad English they want to rent a house sight-unseen, but for some absurd reason, the landlord needs to send the bogus tenant money.

One of my colleagues at Tierra Antigua has twice been the victim of a new, much more ingenious scam. The scammer copies a legitimate for-rent ad from Zillow, lowers the rent in his fake ad to the too-good-to-be-true level, and pretends to be the property manager. Unsuspecting renters send this fake landlord a security deposit. Then, of course, all communication from the fake landlord ceases. The renter is understandably angry that his security deposit has disappeared, and directs his anger at the actual property manager, whose identity has been stolen by the scammer.

When I put a listing in the Multiple Listing Service, it is automatically picked up by Zillow, Trulia,,, and hundreds of other sites. This is usually a good thing. But if Zillow is unable to catch and prosecute the perps, the National Association of Realtors may have to reconsider the practice of allowing other websites to use our listing data.

In the comments following the Inman News article, many agents comment that the scam comes to an abrupt halt when the prospective tenant drives by the house and sees the real listing agent's sign in front of it, and calls the real listing agent. Unfortunately, not all prospective renters take this step and want to believe that an offer that's too-good-to-be-true might nevertheless be true.

One agent suggests that listing agents set up a Google search for the address of all properties that an agent lists in the MLS. Then if the listing is copied by a scammer on craigslist, Zillow, Trulia, etc., I will know about it. Reading all those emails (most of which will be legitimate repostings of my listing) will be a lot of work, but apparently this sort of diligence is required in the digital age.

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