Internet scams in Des Moines send renters to owner-occupied homes
If you're planning on renting in Des Moines, Iowa, someone may already live in your home. The Des Moines Area Association of Realtors sent out a memo in its newsletter this week to alert agents of a growing scam that takes for-sale listings and repurposes them as for-rent advertisements. Les Sulgrove, president of of the group, said Internet scammers will take listing information, such as property description, location and even photos, and attach it to rental information. Sometimes the scammers include a company graphic and company contact information to make the ad look real, he said. "This is a growing problem that we are seeing in our market and, frankly, across the state," Sulgrove told HousingWire. "Real estate listings are appearing on rental websites that were not placed there by local real estate agents or home sellers." Scam rental deals are done completely online and often target out-of-state tenants who may not have a chance to see the property in person before deciding to rent, Sulgrove explained. He cited one Des Moines family who was confronted by a Florida family who thought they were renting their house. The Florida family had been instructed by the "landlord" to call a locksmith, show him the lease agreement and have the locksmith gain access to the house and change the locks. The landlord, in the end, had no connection to the property the Des Moines family owned and the Florida family wished to live in. "Scammers are being pretty creative in what they advertise," Sulgrove said. "The home in this case was listed for $240,000 sales price, but a $840 a month rental price. People see that prices in Arizona are dropping exponentially and they think Des Moines is doing the same thing." Sulgrove admits this isn't a new problem — it began with fraudulent advertisements on Craigslist four years ago. But within the last 60 days, for-sale listings are being repurposed on rental home database sites such as Rental.com and RentalHouses.com, which are sister websites, Sulgrove said. He added there is about six cases of rental fraud at any given time. No one at PRIMEDIA, the parent company of the listed websites, was available to comment. "I think it's happening all over the country," Sulgrove said. "In fact, I know it is." The Realtor group suggested agents set up electronic alerts for every property they have on market, that way they will know whenever the property is listed somewhere other than where they posted the listing. Write to Christine Ricciardi. Follow her on Twitter @HWnewbieCR.