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New Internet Scam Hits the Housing Industry

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Internet scams are seeping into the housing industry as housing gains momentum and more buyers begin their search online.

Kathy Gyselinck is Executive Vice President for Southeast Mortgage

Kathy Gyselinck is Executive Vice President for Southeast Mortgage

Zillow, a popular Internet site for users to list and search for properties, recently found itself in a sophisticated listing scam. The perpetrators of the scam were able to maneuver through multiple precautionary measures Zillow takes to prevent scams.

A potential renter went on Zillow and contacted the supposed property owner, the scammer, about a listing. The scammer went into detail about his story, including background about why he was renting, and sent an application for the renter to complete. When the deal was nearly complete, the scammer promised to overnight the keys pending $1,000 being wired to him.

Zillow’s security measures accounted for the verified email address and phone number attached to the listing. What it did not account for was a fake listing altogether.

The scammer had very easily copied another listing on Zillow with an MLS number and with a few small changes to the address and description, created an attractive listing with a verified email address and phone number sure to fool an innocent renter.  Luckily, the renter just happened to see the original listing and connected the dots to the scam.

This scam is problematic for several reasons. First, an innocent renter nearly lost $1,000 to the scammer. Second, the owner of the original listing that was copied for the scam essentially had his or her online identity stolen and if not cleared up, could tarnish credibility for future sales Finally, the Pocono Mountains Association of Realtors that allowed the posting of the MLS listing information could receive undeserved blame.

Since the Zillow scam was reported, the company has stated they plan to increase security measures to avoid other scams like this one that involve multiple innocent parties.

“We take these scams very seriously and we’re always analyzing and exploring new ways to stay ahead of this,” Zillow spokesperson Cynthia Nowak stated.

Buying or selling a home is a large financial decision and should be treated as seriously. Both buyers and sellers should be vigilant of online scams to avoid fraud.

If you are listing a property online, do regular searches for your property to ensure a scammer is not copying the information. As a homebuyer, the best advice for avoiding a scam is to complete your purchase offline with an individual and company you can trust. While an increasing number of homebuyers are starting their searches online, we recommend seeking out licensed professionals to help you finalize your search for a home in order to ensure the process is not only educational and enjoyable, but also safe.

To help you search online safely, Zillow offers a number of tips to help you avoid scams and Internet fraud. Familiarize yourself with the tips and be sure to alert the listing company if you suspect a scam: www.zillow.com/wikipages/Beware-of-Scams-and-Other-Internet-Fraud.

– Kathy Gyselinck, Executive Vice President for Southeast Mortgage

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