Scams … Don’t Be an Easy Target

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Today is a follow up of my March 29, 2015 post titled “Craigslist Scam.”  On May 19th, The Press Enterprise published an article reporting that three individuals had been charged with on-line vacation rental scams surrounding our local music festivals, Coachella and Stagecoach.  If I’m reading this article correctly … 80 victims lost in excess of $220,000 in rental deposits from these three scammers.  Folks … that’s an astronomical sum of money!  If just three could wreak such havoc, just think of the scammers still out there.  Another point in the article … “incidents reported from 2013 to this year!”  These guys were at it for a couple of years without being caught.  Unfortunately, vacation rentals are an easy target.  With transactions that are typically handled from a distance, identifying a scam is next to impossible.

Please read the full Press Enterprise article below.  I have also added the “Rental Listing Scams” page from the Federal Trade Commission.  I ran a search on the internet for “vacation rental scams” and found a great number of red flags to look for … but none touched on the one single, very simple trick that I would recommend.  But I’ll share it with you …. if you don’t mind a little white lie!

Assuming that you are making your arrangements in advance, ask the “owner” if you can have a friend stop by to see the property.  Then pay very close attention to his reaction.  Now you may very well not have a friend in the area … but it is how this request is answered that is the trick.  If the person on the other side of the line is a scammer, he will not be able to show the property.  If he says that it is occupied then ask for the address to have your friend drive by.  A scammer will probably not want anyone to drive by either, for fear the “friend” will knock on the door or talk to a neighbor.  Remember, they are counting on you being out of town and nowhere near the property until they have received your money.  A scammer will probably put you off and then drop you entirely … stop returning your calls or responding to your emails.  A legitimate owner will typically bend over backwards to assure you that they are on the up and up.  But … perhaps you do have a friend or relative in the area.  That is a perfect scenario.  You can also buy a “friend” by contacting a local concierge company and hire them to preview the property.  An hour’s concierge fee is well worth your peace of mind.

 

ABC Nightline News Video Clip

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California couple faced a vacation nightmare after a home was listed without the owner knowing.

Here’s a video clip from ABC Nightline News that demonstrates how “Vacation Predators” lure trusting buyers into their scams.  Author and travel advocate, Chris Elliott, also shares some interesting information and tips to potential renters. Click on the photo to the left to view the story.

 

The Press Enterprise

BY GAIL WESSON / STAFF WRITER

Coachella Valley: 3 Charged With Rental Scams

The timing of the scams coincides with the Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals. Cases against three defendants are pending.

SOURCE: Riverside County District Attorney’s Office

Nearly 80 victims lost in excess of $220,000 in rental deposits in what the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office is describing as fraudulent real estate rental listings in online scams that coincide with the Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals, according to a news release.

The victims sent deposits, typically by check or wire transfer, to reserve rentals and found “that the house they thought they rented was not actually for rent and the money they provided as a deposit was gone,” the release stated. Some victims came from as far as the East Coast or Canada.

The District Attorney’s Office has charged three defendants in Indio and Riverside courts in incidents reported from 2013 to this year.

Would-be renters turned to Internet rental listing services and communicated with someone claiming to be the owner or the owner’s agent, paid five-figure rental sums and received rental contracts and information for accessing the house.

Online rental services do not always verify that the person making the listing is actually authorized to rent the home, setting up the opportunity for scam artists to prey on unsuspecting victims, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

The defendants, charged in separate criminal complaints with multiple counts of grand theft, are Daniel Moran, 47, of Hollywood Hills; Jian Gary Huang, 41, of San Francisco; and Robert Dennis Enriquez, 58.

Moran is accused of defrauding 15 victims out of $45,105.68 from December 2013 through March 2014, according to court records. In each case, the home was on Maurice Court in Rancho Mirage. The homeowners told a sheriff’s deputy that Moran had tried to rent the home and they had not given him permission to advertise the home as a rental.

When one would-be renter arrived at Palm Springs International Airport, Moran advised that prior tenants had a large party at the residence and the homeowners association had banned short-term rentals, according to an arrest warrant. The prospective renter was not reimbursed.

Investigators have linked at least 11 reports of real estate or rental fraud in La Quinta to Huang, with losses to victims in excess of $17,000, according to court records.

Enriquez signed a rental agreement for an Elkhorn Trail home in Indian Wells and tried to rent it out for music festival weekends in 2014, collecting over $55,600 from 23 separate groups, according to an arrest warrant. Once he got the money, communication with prospective renters ceased.

Complaints, especially from Temecula Wine Country and the Coachella Valley, prompted the Riverside County Board of Supervisors to ask county staff to draw up rules for party or vacation rentals, because of the impacts on neighbors. County spokesman Ray Smith said a draft proposal is expected to be presented to the board later this year.

Contact the writer: 951-368-9075 or gwesson@pe.com

Federal Trade Commission

Consumer Information

Rental Listing Scams

Moving to a new city? Planning a vacation? As you consider issues like size, cost, and location of the rental, also consider this: that rental listing could be a scam. Scammers often advertise rentals that don’t exist or aren’t available to trick people into sending money before they find out the truth.

How Rental Scams Work

Scammers know that finding the right apartment or vacation rental can be hard work, and a seemingly good deal is hard to pass up. They’ve been known to game some vacation rental websites and bulletin boards. The take-away: when you’re looking for a rental, it’s caveat renter — renter beware.

Hijacked Ads

Some scammers hijack a real rental or real estate listing by changing the email address or other contact information, and placing the modified ad on another site. The altered ad may even use the name of the person who posted the original ad. In other cases, scammers have hijacked the email accounts of property owners on reputable vacation rental websites.

Phantom Rentals

Other rip-off artists make up listings for places that aren’t for rent or don’t exist, and try to lure you in with the promise of low rent, or great amenities. Their goal is to get your money before you find out.

Signs of a Scam

Being savvy when you’re in search of a rental is well worth the effort. Here are some signs you may be dealing with a scam:

They tell you to wire money

This is the surest sign of a scam. There’s never a good reason to wire money to pay a security deposit, application fee, first month’s rent, or vacation rental fee. That’s true even if they send you a contract first. Wiring money is the same as sending cash — once you send it, you have no way to get it back.

They want a security deposit or first month’s rent before you’ve met or signed a lease

It’s never a good idea to send money to someone you’ve never met in person for an apartment you haven’t seen. If you can’t visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust to go and confirm that it’s for rent, and that it is what was advertised. In addition to setting up a meeting, do a search on the owner and listing. If you find the same ad listed under a different name, that’s a clue it may be a scam.

They say they’re out of the country

But they have a plan to get the keys into your hands. It might involve a lawyer or an “agent” working on their behalf. Some scammers even create fake keys. Don’t send money to them overseas. If you can’t meet in person, see the apartment, or sign a lease before you pay, keep looking. What if the rental itself is overseas? Paying with a credit card or through a reputable vacation rental website with its own payment system are your safest bets.

How to Report Scams

If you find yourself the target of a rental scam, report it to your local law enforcement agency and to the FTC. Contact the website where the ad was posted, too.

This article was previously available as Rental Listings May be Red Herrings.

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Comments

  1. Excellent and really helpful article. Unfortunately, in spite of more secure vacation rental sites, which nowadays include peer reviews and online payments (e.g Housetrip, Airbnb), vacation rental scams remain a threat. Fraudsters have also become more sophisticated. They will scrape listings and duplicate them, giving the appearance of being a genuine vacation rental listing. If you use, for instance, Airbnb, don’t ever get lured into transacting outside the website before booking, unless you already know the host and trust them.

    • Good point Stephan. There are so many types of scams and we are constantly running into these issues with on-line booking. This is just one of the many reasons why we do not take on-line bookings … but then we are a boutique vacation rental company with a maximum of 130 properties so we can provide personal, hands-on customer and property services. We speak to each client and in the event they are from overseas, we email. In this way we safeguard our property owners, tenants and, of course, our company. Sending money to a complete stranger based solely on an internet picture and description baffles me … but it happens all the time. In the vacation rental business, hearing about the various scams directly from the victims, makes you very mistrustful. Not only are their scams through these sites but there are also misrepresented properties and owners who do not maintain or address issues reported by their tenants as talked about in the article I posted yesterday, October 12, 2015 titled “How Vacation Rental Owners and Tenants Relate.” Thank you for such a great comment Stephan and thank you for following our blog.

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