Homeowners And Renters Beware: People Posing As Fake Homeowners Online

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By Catalina Trivino

A "Taking Action Against Crime" investigation -- Beware home-owners: if you're trying to sell or rent your house, you could be in for a big surprise. Real estate agents say they're seeing people posing as homeowners trying to take money from unsuspecting victims.

You're on the hunt for a house.

Why not look on the internet -- after all, you can find anything online these days, right? Well, you're not the only ones looking. Others are out there looking to score your money. That's how one potential victim nearly lost $800.

Mac Maclachlan is from Washington state, who's moving to Montgomery, and looking to rent.

He found a home in a neighborhood near Atlanta Highway, one that was potentially the home of his dreams. He says he found it posted on Craigslist. The listing was a four-bedroom home.

The rent? 1,000 a month.

"The rent seemed very reasonable for the size of home and the amenities that it had and the only contact information was an e-mail address," Said Maclachlan.

When he inquired about the home, he received an e-mail back from a  person posing as the owner. That person asked  for an $800 deposit.

The post said utilities were included in the home's rent, but when we spoke to the realtor, he told us that wasn't the case. In fact, the home wasn't even for rent. It was for sale.

"This is the Craigslist ad that was posted without permission," Said Taylor Jernigan with Keller-Williams Realty in Montgomery. "And this is the posting on ALAMLS.com, which is the official site of the Montgomery Area Association of Realtors."

Jernigan told us he received a call from Maclachlan about the posting. When Jernigan looked at the site, he realized the person Maclachlan was corresponding with by email was not the real homeowner.

Jernigan said Maclachlan is only one of many potential victims who could be out of their deposit money.

"This is a problem nationwide. And as realtors who take a lot of classes, get a lot of education, we learn that this is something you need to watch out for all the time. There is a way you can combat this," Said Jernigan.

Some redflags?

  • if rent is too low for a house that size, including its amenities.
  • if the homeowner can't meet you. They may say, "they're out of town."
  • if the posting says the house is ready for you to move in "immediately."

While not all postings are frauds, Maclachlan says maybe he was unlucky -- or perhaps, lucky for doing his research -- saving him $800 and flagging the post.

"If it sounds too good to be true, chances are it probably is. And in this case, it certainly was," Said Maclachlan.

Jernigan says if you find a post with an e-mail, you should try to track the IP address. That's another way they were able to uncover what was going on.

And remember: don't sign anything, or send money unless you can physicially meet the homeowner and go inside the house.

Jernigan says another way to not become a victim is to research listings of homes in the area... Similar to the one you want. Check their price ranges.