A swindle that has been known to target Staten Island is spreading and of growing concern to law enforcement agencies.
The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National White Collar Crime Center and the Bureau of Justice Assistance, continues to receive numerous complaints from individuals who have fallen victim to scams involving rentals of apartments and houses, as well as postings of real estate online.
According to online information recently posted by the FBI, one type of scam involves real estate that is listed on classified-advertisement Web sites. The scammer duplicates postings from legitimate real estate Web sites and, after altering them, re-posts the ads.
According to www.fbi.gov: Often, the con artists will use a broker’s real name to create a fake e-mail, which gives the fraud more legitimacy. When victim sends an e-mail through the classified advertisement Web site inquiring about the home, they receive a response from someone claiming to be the owner.
The bogus “owner” claims he and his wife are currently on missionary work in a foreign country. Therefore, he needs someone to rent their home while they are away. If the victim is interested in renting the home, they are asked to send money to the owner in the foreign country.
Members of the Staten Island of Realtors (SIBOR) are aware of the scam, and are advising consumers to remain alert and deal locally with a firm you can trust.
SIBOR president-elect Kathleen O’Leary of Appleseed Homes, Bulls Head, first learned about the scam when she was contacted by a woman who responded to a fake rental ad on craigslist. Sensing something was amiss when she was asked to send money to an “out of town” location, the woman decided to call the Staten Island agency directly.
The scammers, Ms. O’Leary explained, take legitimate online Staten Island listings for sale properties and re-post them as rentals, along with the fraudulent e-mail addresses.
“In the past two years, it’s probably happened at least five times to our company, and I know of at least three other real estate firms on Staten Island that experienced similar attempted scams,” Ms. O’Leary said. “It’s almost like the thieves copied and pasted our names and our company names from legitimate online industry-feeds of for-sale properties.”
Traci Cangiano of Cangiano Estates Ltd., Great Kills, a SIBOR director, said one Staten Islander barely missed being scammed because she decided to view the property with her own eyes.
“We had a house for sales on Dongan Hills Avenue and somebody re-posted it online on craigslist as a rental,” Ms. Cangiano said.
But instead of responding to the scammer’s e-mail address, the potential victim visited what she believed to be a rental property and left a note on the front door of the home explaining her availability as a potential tenant.
“She drove up and down the block until she recognized the house from the picture, and she saw my sign on the lawn,” said Ms. Cangiano, who, after reading the note, contacted the target of the online scam. “Thank God we nipped it in the bud.”
According to the FBI, another type of rental scam occurs when the victim has rental property advertised and is contacted by an interested party. Once the rental price is agreed-upon, the scammer forwards a check for the deposit on the rental property to the victim. The check is to cover housing expenses and is, either written in excess of the amount required, with the scammer asking for the remainder to be remitted back, or the check is written for the correct amount, but the scammer backs out of the rental agreement and asks for a refund. Since the banks do not usually place a hold on the funds, the victim has immediate access to them and believes the check has cleared. In the end, the check is found to be counterfeit and the victim is held responsible by the bank for all losses.
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