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Beware of online real estate scams

Source: Courant Homfinder

Technology has made a lot of things easier and faster, but not always better or safer – beware of fraudulent real estate listings that reuse photos and property information available online.

When a seller lists his property for sale with a real estate company, the broker submits the listing information to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS).  The upside to this technology is that the information is immediately available to every other agent who is a member of that MLS.

 

Another elegant aspect of today’s  technology is that someone in Idaho, Nebraska or China, for example, can search for properties in Connecticut or any other state by looking at online real estate websites such as Realtor.com and Zillow.com.  The information is available because many MLSs have agreements with these sites to feed them listings since sellers want maximum exposure for their properties.

Fast and easy is good, but there is a downside to real estate listings being broadcast all over the planet – listings agents have no control over the information once it has left the MLS.  Those folks who are not real estate licensees, but who are technologically adept (and have bad intentions) can take listing information and modify it so that a property listed for sale on one site can become a property for rent on another.

A homeowner in northwestern Connecticut who had recently listed his property for sale with a real estate broker answered a knock at his door and found a couple asking to tour his home.  They had seen his house online and were interested in it.  The owner let them in, and as the couple was leaving,  they made an offer to rent his property. “Rent?”  The owner responded by saying that his property was not for rent, it was for sale.  The couple said they had seen the property somewhere online for rent. Apparently, a skillful hacker had taken the “for sale” listing and refashioned it as “for rent”.

Technology has also created a dilemma for real estate agents in that they have no control over who is looking at the listing once it’s “out there”.  Many listings include interior pictures or a video tout of the home that shows not only the floor plan, but the silver candlesticks, artwork and children’s names on their bedroom walls.  The possibility exists that some people viewing the listing may not be bona fide purchasers, so while internet exposure can be good, limited personal information is wise.

The technological downside doesn’t affect just sellers, it can also impact tenants.  Here’s a recent story:  A couple wanting to rent a shoreline property contacted the listing agent in an online posting.  The couple paid the agent the first month’s rent and security deposit in cash.  They went to “their” property only to find that the home had a family living in it and that it never had been listed for rent or sale.  The “listing agent” had gathered information on this home from online sources, created an ad and posted as the listing agent.  By the time the couple realized they had been scammed,, the “agent” was nowhere to be found.  In this case, technology made this transaction fast and east for the crook, but not better or safe for the tenant.

Judith I. Johansen is Assistant Counsel for the Connecticut Association of Realtors®, Inc..

 

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