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by sitecore\jhorton on September 26, 2012

Online scam

My husband and I are overjoyed – the moment we’ve been waiting an entire year for is finally upon us, and we couldn’t be more thrilled. That’s right; the lease on our apartment is up! And it feels like… like, freedom!

We’ve spent the past few weeks tirelessly scouring the city of Houston for the perfect place to live (you know – low cost, large square footage, a location that’s close to everything except crime – that place.) As I suspected, the search has been fairly difficult and time-consuming. But what I didn’t expect was to run into as many attempted scammers as I have.

I'm only a few weeks into the search and I’ve already had to report multiple scammers to various websites. And I’m not just talking about sites like Craigslist, which are infamous for this type of activity. I'm talking about legitimate, well-established real estate sites.

The following is the exact email I received following an inquiry about a four-bedroom home in a decent location that was listed for rent at $850/month. Obviously this sounded too good to be true, but I was curious, so I reached out for more information, and this is what I received:

Hello,

We are pleased that you have an interest in our house, Our lovely home is still available for lease and we want responsible adults/family who are neat and also believe that they have what it takes to take care of our house as if it were theirs. My wife and I initially had it up for sale but had a change of mind in leasing it out ourselves because the agent that was in charge of our rental property was asking too much of an agent fee and also making it difficult for people who cannot afford the rent, stay away from renting my house.

The reason why our house is up for lease is because I got transferred from my place of work to BALTIMORE MD, I will be away with my family for at least 4 to 5 years because of the love I have for them, I have decided not to sell our house and also assuring them that we only have few years to spend here and will be willing to lease it out to person/family who is willing to assure us of taking absolute care of our home and pay their rent on time. I will start by telling you more in regards me and my family. I have a daughter named Leslie (20yrs) who attends University of BALTIMORE MD as a medical student, she has a lot going for her and she is also down to earth in all that she does to keep us happy and when she is back home on vacation, she also assist her mom in the house work when am at work. I work as a Robotic Programmer & Welder/Fitter here in BALTIMORE MDand got married to a lovely wife who is a member of Joyce Meyer Ministries . We will be very pleased if we can find the right tenant to rent our home, a person who is a clean freak and does not tolerate anything that has to do with dirt... we also would like to know more about you and your family, your renting experience and how long and when you plan moving into our home. These 4 bedrooms and 2 full, 1 partial baths home are very specious and neat 2,405 sqft.

So pls get back to me today.

I await your reply ASAP.

The rental fee is inclusive with utilities and my home available as at this moment

Remain Blessed.

Mr Ronald L Rushing & Family

 

Now, let’s analyze this attempted scam a bit further:

  1. One of the first tactics of a con-artist or scammer is to give you a lot of personal information about themselves. This builds a certain level of trust. For example, he’s telling me that he’s a family man who has a good job, and a daughter who’s intelligent, and – to top it off – a wife who is heavily involved in a ministry program. So as you’re reading it, you think, "Wow, these are intelligent, trustworthy, God-fearing people." Not to mention that fact that he wants to make his home affordable for people like myself. What a nice guy!  
  2. The second tactic is the level of detail he included. Con-artists are smart. They know that the more detail they provide (even if it’s as useless as "my daughter helps her mother clean when she’s home from school on vacation."), the more you're going to feel that, not only do you trust them, but you want to reciprocate on some level. For example, I would have likely responded with a spiel about the fact that I also went to school in the Northeast, and that my husband is, in fact, a "neat freak".
  3. The final tactic this person used is actually just a sly psychological trick. Throughout the course of the email he is essentially putting the pressure on me. By saying that they are “looking for the right tenant” who is a "clean freak" and doesn’t tolerate dirt, he’s trying to make me feel as though I now need to prove to him why I’m the right tenant.

So where does the scam go from here?

Luckily, I never followed up with this guy, because the whole thing just felt a little “off” to me.

In fact, I did a little Googling and couldn’t find any record that he or his family members even exist. And in the new media age we live in, it’s pretty hard to hide from Google. Not to mention that fact that he told me he had a daughter in college. Do you really think that she wouldn’t be on Facebook? Or Twitter? Or Tumblr? Or somewhere in the social stratosphere? It’s possible. But I highly doubt it.

So as I began noting those red flags, I became more aware of some of the other responses flooding my inbox. And they were strikingly similar. The names and locations differed, but the request was always the same: In order to view the property, they have to make sure you’re trustworthy. So their solution is to have you wire them money, and they’ll do the same – in the form of a fake cashier’s check. It’s only after that occurs that they will send you a key to view the house.

Of course the latter never actually happens.

And unfortunately, fake cashier checks and money orders are common, which means banks will cash them, and then you will be held responsible for repaying the funds when the bank discovers the fake a few weeks later.

The conclusion I’ve drawn from my near-scam experience, is that you should always follow your gut. If it seems too good to be true, it is.

In addition, Craigslist offers the following tips to help avoid these types of scams:

  • Never wire funds via Western Union, Moneygram or any other wire service. Anyone who asks you to do so is likely a scammer.
  • Never give out personal financial information, such as your bank account number, social security number, eBay/PayPal information, etc.
  • Avoid deals involving shipping or escrow services and remember that only a scammer with “guarantee” your transaction.
  • Do not rent housing or purchase an expensive item without first seeing it in person. In all likelihood that housing unit is not actually for rent, and that cheap item does not exist.
  • Do not submit to credit checks or background checks for a job or for housing until you have met the agent or landlord in person.

Comment(s)

Deniece says:
September 28, 2012

JOE - Give the letter and money orders to your local post master general if this was done by mail it is mail fraud and a very big deal. My mom got some that said she was getting the funds in advance to go to her bank, where she had an active account, and then she was to report back on the experience and send them X amount of money back then keep the rest as payment for completing the shop. When she didn't respond they sent her an email (or letter I don't remember which) that stated they would contact the police and the BBB if she didn't send them the cash and the report. I told her it was a scam. Nothing ever happened. Beware of anyone who wants to send you money just to have you send them money back, if they insist that you take it to your personal bank where you have an account (since a money order can be cashed at lots of places including the post office and 7-11 but they have fraud alerts whereas your bank probably doesn't) lots of grammer or spelling mistakes, and remember if it sounds too good to be true...IT IS! AND if they try to scare you into doing it by threatening to call the police ... etc. go to the police first and say, I got this in the mail, what should I do? Let it be someone elses headache. In this day and age there is no reason to fall for these scams.



Gene Jacobson says:
September 28, 2012

Another sure fire tip that you are dealing with a scam artist is the incredibly poor grammar and construction of the email. Not a native English speaker which is a giveaway that you are not dealing with a legitimate entity. And never, ever give out banking or credit card information to anyone like this, or at any website that does not begin with https:// Often hovering whatever name in the email they send you will show where they are really sending you and it won't be your bank or paypal but some other obscure site. Hopefully, your email program will have put it in your spam folder anyway, most are pretty good at spotting those now.



Jackie Jones says:
September 28, 2012

This also happened to me. I responded to the add and gave these con-artists personal information about me. They didn't ask for money but sent a form for me to complete with my personal and financial information. I suspected something when I noticed many spelling/grammatical errors. I started fishing for information by responding to their emails. Eventually, they stopped responding, maybe because they knew I was onto them. I Googled the house address and found that there was a local real estate agent who had the house on the market. I contacted the agent who was not aware that this was going on. I gave her the email information and told her that this home was being used in a scam. I'm glad I didn't fall for it.



JOSE says:
September 28, 2012

I JUST GOT TWO MONEY ORDER CHECKS, FROM HARRY BROWN, IN TEXAS, AND HE ASKED ME TO CASH THEM AND PAY THE MONEY OUT TO A THIRD PARTY. I DO NOT KNOW THE SENDER, I NEVER HEARD FROM HIM BEFORE. WHAT SHOULD I DO?



Patricia says:
October 02, 2012

I usually make it a practice not to acknowledge or even open any thing that looks funny. The people who call now with scams usually hang up on me when I start asking questions. Be safe out there and I agree if it sounds to good to be true it is more than likely a scam.



Renee says:
October 05, 2012

The scammers tend to post their ads at a couple of hundred dollars less than the actual listed rental amount. I spent a year sifting through ads like that. After getting a few of those emails back I started spending more time researching homes I was interested in. With a little digging on mls sites I would find the original listing and sure enough the home would be listed at a competitive amount for that area. It's a shame people get pulled into these scams. There seems to be more renters than rental properties so renters are easy targets. I hope people catch on to the signs of scammers before becoming victims.



Shawn says:
September 27, 2012
Website: www.debtfree2wealth.info

Great information. It is sad that when times get hard the cons come out even more. I always believe that anything that sounds too good to be true is fake. Buyer beware and do your due diligence with every purchase.



YRzGGHeuJHEX says:
February 18, 2013

Hi there, just became aware of your blog thorugh Google, and found that it's truly informative. I am going to watch out for brussels. I’ll appreciate if you continue this in future. Lots of people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!



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