Stop the Scam — How to Protect Your Rental Listing from Fraud
It’s critical that, as a rental property owner, you stay on top of scams and fraud regarding your rental listings. Serious consequences for not doing so can destroy your reputation as a landlord or business and sour relationships with tenants and other people.
Unfortunately, there are a handful of different ways that landlords and their legitimate rental listings can fall victim to fraudsters, with one of the most common being having your listing lifted from the internet. However, you don’t have to suffer the results. Listing fraud is one of those cases where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
What Scammers Do with Your Listings and Photos
Lifting happens when a fraudulent “landlord” takes details (including your photos) of your rental property and re-lists it as their own available property. They might present it on online rental marketplaces like Craigslist, for example.
Once it’s fraudulently listed on a website, the scammer converses with people who think they will become the property’s next tenants, convincing them to send the security deposit and first (and last) month’s rent to the scammer.
Unfortunately, by the time the would-be tenants realize they’ve been duped, the fraudulent scammer is long gone, along with their money. This scam mainly preys on and attracts people searching for a place to rent “sight unseen,” such as someone moving across the country and cannot make the trip beforehand to view the property personally.
Why this Type of Scam is so Dangerous for You as a Landlord
Simply put, rental ads lifted from the internet in this way often have the real landlord’s name, photo, and contact information all over the fraudulent listing. This way, the scammer has your name to use to “verify” the listing’s legitimacy with interested tenants.
Unfortunately, you could suffer damage to your reputation as a result or even be named in a lawsuit.
How to Protect Your Rental Listing from Fraud
Now that you understand why protecting your rental listings from scams like these is so important, let’s look at some ways you can avoid falling victim to this deception.
Set Up Online Alerts
One of the single best ways to protect your reputation, your property, and your checkbook is to set up Google Alerts on every property listing you put on the internet. Google Alerts will send you a notification just about every single time the listing address is used online.
Since scammers also often use a rental property owner’s name and even their face, you should also create a Google Alert for your name and images.
Another website that you should use to set up these alerts is If This, Then That. The National Association of REALTORS® recommends this site because Google Alerts doesn’t always work for some websites, such as Craigslist.
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Watermark Your Photos
Adding a watermark to your photos ensures that they are credited properly to you. Think of it as an artist signing a painting. Watermarks are difficult for fraudsters to remove and can deter them from using watermarked photos. If they are removed, it usually becomes obvious that an image has been tampered with.
There are several programs and apps available online that you can use to watermark your photos. Each program has different instructions on how to do so, and the most popular ones offer instructions that are easy to understand.
Don’t feel like you need to shell out a lot of money to get one of these programs, either. Some of the best watermarking software programs and websites are absolutely free.
Report the Lifted Rental Listing on Facebook
Nothing “gets the word out” about anything faster than Facebook these days. Whether you spy your ad actually on Facebook or not, you can make some noise about it. If the fake listing is listed on Facebook, report it to the company as fraudulent.
If you find the listing on any other website, create a public Facebook post letting the world know that it’s fake.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and it’s worth the effort to protect yourself, your rental listing, and your reputation from scammers and fraudsters. Always stay vigilant and keep an eye on activity related to your property by activating alerts and watermarking your photos.