HARBOR SPRINGS — The Harbor Springs Police Department recently has received multiple reports of someone using information and photos from local real estate listings to create fraudulent rental property listings on Craigslist.
Kyle Knight, Harbor Springs Police Department chief, said over the past several weeks two such reports have been submitted to his department, while recently another person from Montana had fallen for the same scam.
“What they do is take a real estate posting from one of our local Realtors, and they’ll take all the pictures of the house and they list it on Craigslist or some type of social media platform as a rental,” Knight said. “Then they’ll ask for … all of your (information), you can do a down deposit by paying through PayPal or one of those electronic financial apps.
“They’ll ask for a deposit and then the person will find out the house isn’t for rent, it’s for sale,” Knight said.
Knight said the scam is similar to those of credit card scammers or “somebody calling and saying that their grandson has been injured and they create this bogus account and for the most part the money they get is shipped overseas, that’s where the money goes.”
Knight said scammers will also use the real estate application Zillow to take a home which is for sale, use all the listed pictures and will list the property as a rental.
“So if someone is looking for a rental on Craigslist, they’ll come across this house and think it’s a rental and then they’ll be in contact with the suspect, either email or something like a text, and they’ll ask for a credit card number or a deposit or send a check and when somebody sends a check or gives them that credit card number, you’re out of that money.
“Unfortunately, most of the time we can’t track this money down.”
Most of the time, the person listing the rental will only communicate through text or email and is also using an official looking rental application bearing a Realtor’s logo, Knight said.
“Read through the whole listing because on the bottom of listings, there’s disclaimers to make contact with the real estate company and do not send them money directly,” Knight said. “Read the disclaimer, and what I would do if you can is actually do an on-scene inspection of the rental or confirm with a local police agency that the place is actually a rental.”
Knight said you can also use a simple Google search to type in the address of the rental to find out if in fact it is a rental, or is listed for sale.
“Just do a little more homework, that’s my encouragement for people,” Knight said. “Don’t fall for it and do your homework to make sure it’s a rental.”
The Harbor Springs Police Department also said individuals should not send money or personal information to anyone without meeting them in person and physically seeing the property. Also, avoid using Western Union or payment apps such as Venmo or Zelle to make down payments for rental properties, especially sight unseen.
“Right now, with rental demand being so high up here … I was just talking to someone about the number of rentals available in Harbor Springs and Petoskey and they’re in such demand that people want to go and get at it,” Knight said. “When they see something moderately priced they might fall victim to it because they’re looking for a good deal.
“Unfortunately, if it’s too good to be true, often times it is,” Knight said. “It’s also not just up here, it’s all over. Realtors are saying it’s happening all over.”
For more information or questions, call the Harbor Springs Police Department at (231) 526-6211.