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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Craigslist Scam

 

Craigslist$1000 / 5br – 4200ft – 5bd House Vacation Rental (Indio)

© craigslist – Map data © OpenStreetMap

Madison at 49

5BR / 4Ba 4200ft2 house available now
laundry on site attached garage
wheelchair accessible
cats are OK – purrr dogs are OK – wooof

My house has been rented by a scam artist as a vacation rental for BNP Paribus, Stagecoach, and Coachella. People who were duped out of more than $1,000 have been showing up at my door to move in for the week. They are sad to find out they were ripped off and now the group of 10 don’t have anywhere else to stay for the week. PLEASE WATCH OUT FOR THIS SCAM!

The police can’t do anything (so they say) and neither can Craigslist (so they say). The only thing we can do is daily go on Craigslist and flag for deletion all of the ads for our house. We can’t keep up. It is often listed 3 or 4 times per day.

Don’t ever WIRE someone money whom you haven’t talked to personally. Authorities told us it is most likely a cyber-crime committed outside of the U.S. and therefore unavoidable! Please don’t rent a house on Carefree Drive in Indio unless you check to see if it is also listed on VRBO.com. Then call the owner and talk.

  • do NOT contact me with unsolicited services or offers

post id: 4943054642

posted: 7 days ago

email to friend

♥ best of [?]

Please flag discriminatory housing ads Avoid scams, deal locally! DO NOT wire funds (e.g. Western Union), or buy/rent sight unseen

 

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The above was posted on Facebook this past week and I thought it would be a good topic for today’s blog post.  Unfortunately we see this, and similar scams, all the time.  Vacation Rentals of the Desert is a member of the Vacation Rental Manager’s Association who keep us informed of the various methods used to scam both renters AND property owners.  These scams do a lot to hurt the professional vacation rental industry too.  It is sad.  One bad apple … as the saying goes.

I received an email from a business associate, Kelly, a few days after reading the above post on Facebook.  Apparently she personally knew the homeowner and was reaching out to me for advice.  Since the homeowner had already contacted both Craigslist and the police, my only concern was for her safety and peace of mind.  Looking at a bigger picture, as I am always apt to do, I recommended that she look into a security system and post a big note on the front door stating that the house has been involved in a scam and it is not a vacation rental; to contact the person who collected your money and do not disturb the owners occupying the property.

Picture this scenario … the vacation renters arrive at the front door only to find that there is no key under the mat or lock box on the front door … or wherever the “so-called owner” said the keys would be.  They ring the doorbell but there is no answer.  The guests, thinking they had paid for the property, take it upon themselves to call a locksmith or break a window to gain access … “after all, we paid for it.”   If the property owner cannot be at the house 24/7 … this is a very real possibility.  OR … a party of ten shows up at the house about 1:00 a.m. after the first day of Coachella Fest … ten people who have been partying hard all day long, wake you from a dead-sleep in the middle of the night!  Ugly.

This is not a happy situation for either the property owner or the renter, and it puts a black mark on vacation rentals as a whole.

If you are a vacation “renter” reading this post …. Please, please, please do not search for vacation rentals on Craigslist.  It is a very easy site for scammers to use … there is no accountability for either those who post or those who inquire.  This is why you will typically not find professional vacation rental companies on this site.  Red flags you should look for … wiring funds, lack of pictures, no live person to speak to, no reviews, and no protections offered by the posting site.  Craigslist is a free listing service.  Property owners pay to list their vacation home on VRBO, FlipKey and many other “by owner” sites.  Some of these sites will offer protection in the form of insurance.  This does not mean there are not scammers on these sites as well.  Always steer clear of wiring funds, always speak directly to the owner and always get the exact property address.  That being said … I really must encourage you to go through a professional company.  I am not being biased here!  Many scammers have charisma, they are very convincing salesmen and sound like someone you can trust … that’s what makes them successful scammers.  Some property listings do not have reviews because they are too new, or the property owner does not choose the site’s option to collect reviews.  And reviews are not always reliable.  I can go on VRBO and most “by owner” sites and give a great review to a property that I have not even seen, much less rented.  So reviews can be completely made up.  If you look up city records for the name of the property owner, the property may “legally” be in another name.  Many vacation homes have multiple owners, or property managers, or are in trusts or LLCs.  Since it’s “public record,” a good scammer will have looked up this information as well and have a prepared story.  References … scammer have friends who are scammers … they’d gladly put you in touch with a “renter” who would vouch for “their” property.  If you want peace of mind … go with a professional vacation management company.

On June 8, 2014 in my blog post titled “Girlfriend Retreat,” I shared the story of how I was appointed the official “property procurer” for a girl’s weekend.  Being in the vacation rental business, my friends figured that for me, it’d a no-brainer.  I started poking around the internet and quickly realized that there was no way in the world that I was going to rent through a “by owner” site.  Too risky.  Because I am in the profession I would have never even thought about going directly to a stranger … but I now found myself on the other side of that computer screen and the other side of that phone call.  How would I feel if we were scammed and not only I, but my friends lost their vacation money and found ourselves without a place to stay!   Before I got too far in my search I got lucky.  I work with a property owner who also had a home in Lake Arrowhead, exactly where we wanted to stay.  But just the thought of picking up the phone and trusting someone I did not know and knowing the number of scams out there … well I’m just not as trusting as I once was.

So finally I want to say … there are a lot of bad people out there.  I hope your property is never involved in a scam like the owner above.  Odds are in your favor that it won’t be.  If you are a renter I have only one thing to say … just go to a professional please.  Contact me!  I’d love to rent you a home in the desert … or go to discovervacationhomes.com (operated by the Vacation Rental Managers Association).  They have a list of reputable vacation rental companies on their website. You may pay just a little more for a professionally managed property… or maybe not, but I guarantee you’ll sleep better knowing that you and your vacation, are in trusted hands!

 

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