Bad Behavior

Potential home-renters and prospective vacation-seekers beware: cyber thieves have been found to be roping in victims through rental and real estate scams. Keep reading to find out what you need to know to stay out of danger.

Understanding the Threat

In mid March, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), an establishment of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation that serves as a clearinghouse to triage cyber complaints, issued an alert on rental and real estate scams. IC3 cited that it continues to receive numerous complaints from individuals who have become online scam victims after falling for ploys involving renting apartments and houses, and due to online posting for real estate.

In any given month, the IC3 has an intake of roughly 20,000 complaints that are waded through to uncover patterns and go after the scammers. In this latest trend spotted, the criminal uses a means of social engineering — taking advantage of human behavior to trick or deceive people into performing certain actions or divulging personal information.

Here's how this Internet crime has been known to play out.

The Bad Behavior

In rental scams, according to the IC3, the victim, who has advertised their rental property online, is contacted by a "renter" — a cyber thief in disguise. The criminal sends a check for a deposit on the property to the victim. Two scenarios may then occur: the check is either in an amount higher than the agreed-upon price, and the scammer asks for the extra money to be returned, or the check is in the correct amount, but the scammer ends the rental agreement and asks for a refund. In either case, while the victim believes the check has cleared, it is later found to be counterfeit. The bank holds the victim responsible for any losses.

In real estate scams, the cyber criminal will post a real estate ad to a classified website, closely mimicking a legitimate posting from a real estate website. "Often, the scammers use the broker's real name to create a fake email, which gives the fraud more legitimacy," according to the IC3 warning. When the interested renter contacts the address shown in the fake listing, they are told by the supposed owner — who is actually the criminal — that they are out of the country. In order to rent the home, the victim is told they must send money to the property's owner in the foreign country.

Winning Strategies

It goes without saying that you always need to keep your security software up-to-date to avoid online scams. To be safe from the specific types of rental and real estate scams discussed above, it's imperative that you keep your guard up. You need to use caution and common sense when posting rental properties and real estate online, or when responding to these types of ads. Always do your research and make sure to use a trusted, legitimate site, and to be skeptical of the offers you receive.

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