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'Not for Rent' stickers target online rental fraud

Newly released “Not for Rent” stickers are aimed at scammers who fraudulently list properties for rent before running off with wired money, never to be seen again.

Leslie Kilpatrick, president of the Greater San Diego Association of Realtors (SDAR) unveiled the stickers Friday with District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis; Wayne Bell, chief executive of the California Bureau of Real Estate (CalBRE); and Alan Pentico, executive director of the San Diego County Apartment Association.

“Not only does rental fraud harm would-be renters, it makes it more difficult for legitimate property owners and landlords to do business as well,” Pentico said.

Swindlers have been fraudulently advertising vacant, for-sale homes for rent online, accepting wire transfers and fleeing the country, making prosecution difficult. The stickers’ intent is to warn potential victims that the unit is not for rent.

“One scam artist we investigated claimed to be in the Navy and currently out overseas. The victim wired the person money and then never saw that money again – the scammer disappeared,” Dumanis said.

“Another crook claimed to be a nurse and even met the victim in the parking lot of a hospital so it looked real. She had a nurse’s uniform on and she even gave them a key for the premises. Of course when the victim went to that home, the key didn’t work. And of course they never got their money back.”

The perpetrators don’t own the properties and are not authorized or licensed to rent them, Bell said. Warning signs are low advertised rental rates, a request for advance payment or deposit by cash or wire transfer, the owner is out of the area or not willing to meet in person, the property cannot be shown, and there’s pressure to complete the transaction quickly, Bell said.

The stickers include contact information for the listing agent, the district attorney’s office and a link to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. They are a program of the Real Estate Fraud Fighters, which is SDAR’s task force dedicated to fighting real estate fraud in the county, Kilpatrick said.

“In the majority of complaints our office gets, the swindler isn’t in San Diego. They’re oftentimes … overseas,” Dumanis said. “This means that it’s very difficult to catch them, to prosecute them and to get your money back.”

The scam often begins when the potential victim calls a number for a rental offered at an incredibly low price and is told to drive past the property to see if they like it – without meeting the landlord or getting a tour of the house, Kilpatrick said. The victim then wires the deposit and never hears from the “landlord” again.

“With today’s competitive rental market and extremely low inventory, potential victims feel the pressure to move quickly in the transactions, potentially without ever seeing the inside of the property,” Kilpatrick said.

Now when these potential victims drive by the fraudulently advertised rental unit, the stickers will warn them and hopefully deter them from sending any money

“It’s a simple way to protect consumers and to pull the plug on these scams,” Dumanis said.

Veronica Kilpatrick, CalBRE enforcement manager for the San Diego area, said she received about 10 complaints in the past month related to online rental fraud in San Diego and Riverside counties, which she said is high for that type of scam.

“Rental fraud is reprehensible and it’s utterly devastating to its victims,” Bell said. “Unfortunately, it is a growing and seriously damaging problem in our state, and as I mentioned before it is a problem here in San Diego County.”

Most cases of online rental fraud involve a scammer who duplicates or hijacks an actual listing of property for sale or rent, creates a false or fictitious listing for a rental property, offers a real or unavailable property for rent, or lists a property that is in foreclosure and will soon be sold or even has been fully foreclosed, Bell said.

Dumanis urged homeowners, realtors and brokers to use the stickers, and potential renters to look out for the stickers when they’re shopping.

In addition to looking for the “Not for Rent” stickers, consumers can protect themselves by being cautious and investigating the landlord and asking for a license number.

They should always tour the property and look for the “Not for Rent” sticker, and they should confirm that the property is not in foreclosure or pre-foreclosure. They should never pay in cash or wire transfer money, Bell said.

“Never, never, never wire or send money unless you personally verify that you’re dealing with a person that is authorized to sell or rent the premises,” Dumanis said.

Pentico said potential renters should use professional listing services such as rent.com and apartments.com to search for properties, and to use caution if they choose to use sites like craigslist.com.

When meeting with the owner or property manager, the potential renter should be provided with a rental application or lease, and Pentico advised consumers to never rent without a contract.

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Greater San Diego Association of Realtors

Company Website

4845 Ronson Ct., 330
San Diego, CA 92111

Greater San Diego Association of Realtors Executive(s):

Linda Lee

  • 2013 President

Leslie Kilpatrick

  • Board President

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