As if the poor US economy hasn’t dealt the real estate market a bad enough blow, it is also a primary target for the Nigerian Scam industry. No, this is not a new scam! It is just a scam that seams to regenerate itself and become more prominent with the surplus of houses available for sale and sitting empty.
This scam is very real, and while this article is quite long, I recommend you read it all the way through. I even have a few recommendations for the National Association of Realtors to significantly reduce the ease of running this scam.
Here is one version of the “For Rent Scam” I found, just yesterday:
Craigslist caught this one and took the link (http://cedarrapids.craigslist.org/apa/1638375669.html) down, but how many people saw it before it was caught?
If you use Microsoft’s Internet Explorer to access web sites, and you use Google to search, this listing can still be found with the use of advance search settings and using the “Page Preview” option. This is because the URL has already been indexed by Google’s web crawlers and indexing tools.
I found this listing on Craigslist and was interested. I started looking through other resources to find this property, just to see if it was a legitimate offer.
I checked Realtor.com and found that this house was actually for sale by a local RE/MAX agent.
After reading the information available on Realtor.com, I went to the RE/MAX web site to see if there was any more information, available.
While there were some noticeable differences in the presentation of the property between these two pages, the information was basically the same.
Finally, I checked the local assessor’s page for any information they would have on file for this property. Here I found the name of the Deed Holder, a list of permits pulled for various things, a Plat Map, and a very specific description of the property.
All this research provided me with a lot of information. Between just those three sites, I was able to get all of the following information:
- Owner’s Name
- Legal Description
- Size of Property
- Residential Dwelling details (I.E. Style, Exterior Material, Living Area, Number of Rooms, Basement type, & etc.)
- Year Built
- Tax Assessments
- Dollar amount the property sold for in past 10 years
- All permits obtained for Construction, Repairs & Fencing.
- A 2-D architectural sketch (blue-print) of the structure.
While considered public information, it was used to make this property an easy target for the “For Rent” scam. All the pictures show this house completely empty and vacated. There are no vehicles sitting in the driveway or street. Pictures show the blinds have been removed from the Windows so you can see right in. You are even told this property is in a quiet neighborhood, in a wooded area on a cul-de-sac.
How much more information would need to be given before this house is broken into, vandalized or destroyed by criminals? (The obvious answer is NONE!)
How much more information would need to be given before this house, it’s owner(s), potential buyers/renters become the subject of a scam? (You fail if you don’t know the answer is NONE!) It already was the target of a scam.
The scammer took the pictures and description right off the sales sheet. All the work was basically done for the scammer, by the realtor. The criminal only had to copy/paste the info right into the listing on Craigslist.
I decided to have a little fun with the person shown as the point of contact on Craigslist. An email address was given (firstname.lastname@example.org) to contact the person putting the house up for rent. SO I DID!
I got a very quick response…
Thanks for the email. I own the house and also want you to know that it was due to my transfer to ( West Africa , Nigeria ) that makes us to leave the house and also want to give it out for rent and looking for a responsible person and God fearing person who can take very good care of the house in my absence.we are not after the money for the rent but want it to be clean all the time and the person that will rent it to take it as if it were its own..
So for now, I am here in West Africa and will be staying here for the next 6years in our new house and also with the keys of the house for rent, we try to look for an agent that we can give this documents and the keys before we left but could not find, and we as well do not want our house to be used any how in our absence that is why we took it along with us.You can see a foresale sing i want you to know that i and my wife have wanted to sell the property but when we see that we are transfer so we decided not to sell it any more….
We came over to Africa for a missionary work, so i hope you will promise us that you will take very good care of the house. So get back to me if you know you could take care of our house or perhaps experience you have in renting home.Hope you are okay with the price of $1000 per month and the security Deposit is $400.Get back to me with the rental application form.
Here is the address bellow:
5220 Bent Tree Ct NE, Cedar Rapids IA 52411
4 br | 2 ½ ba | 2,068 sqft | Single-Family Home
RENTAL APPLICATION FORM
Rental/Lease Spouse Full Names:
Rental/Lease Kids Full Names:
Rental/Lease Relatives or Friends Full Name:
Rental/Lease Mobile/Cell Number:
Rental/Lease Telephone Number:
Rental/Lease Present House Address:
Rental/Lease Present Work place name and Address:
Rental/Lease Present work Tel. Number:
Rental/Lease Numbers of Cars:
Rental/Lease Pet type:
Rental/Lease proposed date of Move in:
Rental/Lease months budget to deposit before move in:
Rental/Lease Reference contact info:
I had asked some very specific questions about the property, and got a very canned response. The response has a lot of grammatical errors as if the person wasn’t from the US, and even states they reside in NIGERIA now. The scammer even tries to say that the “For Sale” sign currently seen on the property, was something they had tried, but weren’t successful before leaving. They want $400 for a deposit and $1000 a month for rent. They even make a point to say they allow pets, want neat/clean renters, and want the renters to be “GOD FEARING” people.
I also sent another email to this same person, from a different email address. This email was a little more vague in questions about the place, but the response was exactly the same as the one above.
This scam is so prominent Craigslist has a message at the top of every “For Rent” post. It says: “Avoid scams and fraud by dealing locally! Beware any arrangement involving Western Union, MoneyGram, wire transfer, or a landlord/owner who is out of the country or cannot meet you in person.” They even give a “More Info” link to read up on scenarios.
While this scam was the idea of some scandalous Nigerian, there were no systems in place to prevent it from happening, and if there were, they failed. We don’t even have any way of telling if there were any people who fell for this elaborate scam. It is obvious that computer and web technology were used to operate this scam, but none of that same computer and web technology was used to prevent it from occurring in the first place.
In my opinion, the failure started with Yahoo. It was after all, a Yahoo email address used to run the scam. Someone’s email was either hacked or Yahoo simply allowed the person to sign up for a free account with zero identification verification.
The failure continued with Craigslist. Craigslist allowed the Yahoo email address to be used to create an account and list the property for rent, without verifying the identity of the person creating the account.
The US Government, the State of Iowa, the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Assessor’s Office, various real estate companies, the National Association of Realtors, the Iowa Association of Realtors and the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Association of Realtors all had a role in making this scam possible. There are no safeguards on who can access what property information at any of these seven organizational levels. This scam could have been prevented at each of these six organizational levels, but wasn’t.
I have a few recommendations for the National Association of Realtors and any real estate companies to significantly reduce the ease of running this scam. I’d be happy to share my ideas, if any of the Association of Realtors branches/levels wants to contact me about them.