The Internet, Craigslist and desperation brought on by the housing crisis have made the scammers' jobs a whole lot easier.
Here's what these fake agents are doing: luring people into buying or leasing homes or apartments that are not owned by the postulating "landlord," in the hopes that an eager potential tenant will dash off a check, which they keep. The scammers represent themselves as agents, but don't hold Texas licenses. They accept and keep deposits for properties over which they have no authority or no control. If they claim to be property managers, they swipe large security deposits from tenants, and keep the money. And here's the newest gig: taking deposits or earnest money on properties that they claim are available for a short sale but are actually ten seconds from a foreclosure.
What a racket!
It gets worse: these scammers are also allegedly hiring people to help them perform routine real estate brokerage services, such as showing properties for sale or lease and writing up contracts and leases, which only a licensed agent can do in Texas. These employees are said to be solicited via Craigslist.
This sort of thing has been going on for years -- and Craigslist is often ground zero. The classified listing site has made its founder Craig Newmark a millionaire. But at a recent real estate convention, Newmark claimed he spends an inordinate amount of time trying to shoo the impostors from his site. The slow real estate market has aggravated the scam, since so many desperate sellers need to lease their home. While Craigslist can be a valuable resource, consumers need to take great care when searching for real estate on the site, licensed agents warn.
TREC tells consumers to always, always verify the identity of an agent and check to see if they hold an active, valid Texas real estate license before handing out one bit of personal or financial information, or money. License information can be easily found TREC's website, or by calling TREC at 1 (800) 250-TREC or (512) 465-3942.
Texas state law provides some financial protection from unscrupulous agents. Consumers who use licensed Texas agents can be reimbursed by the Real Estate Recovery Trust Account if they suffer actual damages caused by misconduct of a real estate licensee in a real estate brokerage transaction. (They must first obtain a civil court judgment against the licensee.) But victims who use unlicensed individuals are not eligible to be reimbursed by the account, which is funded by Texas Realtor dues.
So you can imagine the surprise of one Dallas homeowner, whose home is listed by local Dallas agents Martha and McKamy Tiner of Dave Perry Miller & Associates, when she recently learned her home was being offered for lease at $900 per month on Craig's List without her knowledge.
"They were listing for lease a home they didn't even own!" she said.
Yeah, her home!
Still, the homeowner was terrified someone would show up at her doorstep claiming they had paid to lease the home. For what it's worth, here is the fake ad that was posted offering her home for rent. (One lesson might be: beware ads that sound like they were written by an Nigerian scammer and invoke the Almighty a little too freely....)
Good day Applicant,
Thanks for your email and interest in renting my house. I am Karen Colbert, the owner of the house you are making enquiry of. Actually I did reside in the house with my family, my husband and my only daughter before and presently we have moved out due to my official job transfer or posting, whatever you may call it, which has now found me in Warsaw, Poland. Presently my house is still available for rent for $900 USD per month (which includes utilities), though i intended selling it off but on a later thought changed my mind and have decided putting it on rent. More so now, I'm currently in Lagos, Nigeria for an international Christian follower's crusade taking place at the Nigeria national stadium, by one Pastor Chris of the Christ Embassy Ministry.
I want you to understand that I spent a lot on my property that you have requested to rent, so I will solicit for your absolute maintenance of this house and would want you to treat it as your own because cleanliness they say is next to Godliness. It is not all about the money to be paid on rent or spent; it is all about a good maintenance culture which I want you to adopt on the property. I want you to keep it tidy all the time so that I would be full of smiles whenever I come and above all, a good, strong and tight relationship between us when I come for a check up. Please one more thing, I wouldn't like to have any benefit of trust in you because I want to stand in your words that the property would be well taken care of all the time.
I believe you have see how lovely it is if from only the pictures you saw in my posting compare to the 100% comfort to be derived from it as an occupant. Please note than you will only be able to drive by the house for now but can't have a look at the interior until i have sent the keys and documents of the house to you. Reason because, i couldnt find someone trust worthy to drop the keys with as my call down here was so sudden. I do hope you understand.
It has extremely spacious rooms throughout with lots of big windows...nice and light! New neutral paint and some newer carpet. Very quiet, low traffic area. New fridge (7/07)...I believe it's absolutely a perfect home for you and your family. Utilities include Water, Trash, Sewer, Gas etc.
Please note that, a deposit payment would be required if accepted to have the property rented.
SO IF YOU ARE REALLY INTERESTED I WILL WANT YOU TO FILL THE RENT APPLICATION FORM BELOW.
RENT APPLICATION FORM.
ARE YOU MARRIED: __________
KIDS _____ (YES/NO), HOW MANY ________
PRESENT ADDRESS: _____________________
ZIP CODE: ____________
HOW LONG ___________IF RENTING
WHY ARE YOU LEAVING__________
IF THIS HOUSE IS BEING GIVEN TO YOU,HOW LONG DO YOU INTEND STAYING ____________
WHEN DO YOU INTEND MOVING IN ______________
IF YOU HAVE A PET: _________
NAME OF PET: _____________
KIND OF PETS: _____________
DO YOU SMOKE ______________
DO YOU DRINK ______________
DO YOU WORK LATE NIGHT ____
HOW SOON CAN YOU MAKE THE MOVE IN DEPOSIT ($900) REQUIRED: ____________
WHEN AND WHERE DO YOU WISH TO RECEIVE THE KEYS AND DOCUMENTS OF THE HOUSE: _______________
Looking forward to hearing from you with all this details so that I can present it to my family, pray over it (because I consult the Almighty God before making any decision) and if accepted, and then have them stored in my file in case of issuing the receipt for you and contacting you. Await your urgent reply so that we can discuss on how to get the document and the keys to you, please we are giving you all this based on trust and again I will want you to stick to your words, you know that we are very far apart now and only putting everything into God's hands and hope that you will not let us down.
The house will be available for rent for a period of five and a half years so you have a choice of deciding how long you intend staying there.. Here is my number 011-234-802-736-6566 or +234-011-234-802-736-6566 , I will be expecting to hear from you.
Feel free to call me for more information and arrangements.