“I was shocked,” Larson said. “I kind of felt it hurts the sale of her house, because people were not seeing it for sale, they were seeing it for rent, and they had it listed really, really cheap.”
Larson, a realtor for Livermore based-RE/MAX Accord, learned about the scam from a woman who saw a rental listing for the house, 1238 Michael Drive, but found when she visited the address that it was for sale.
The mismatched information raised a red flag, Larson said, and the woman contacted her right away.
Undertaking her own investigation, Larson found the house listed as a rental on several Internet sites, including Craigslist and Zillow. She removed as many of the fake listings as she could and informed the Tracy Police Department on Friday, Oct. 25.
Larson said she had heard of similar incidents when numerous local houses were in foreclosure five years ago, but nothing recently.
“I’ve warned my clients looking to rent and warned them about giving a deposit when they haven’t met (the renter) in person or if they have any suspicions about it,” she said.
After reaching out to the person who had posted the rental listings, Larson said she received an email from a man who claimed to be the homeowner. He claimed to be out of the country and wrote that he was willing to rent the house for $1,300 a month because he was moving his family abroad.
“I did bid for a portion of petroleum land three months ago in West Africa and fortunately I won the bidding so I have to move down to Africa to have my company set up because I will still have to rebid for it in the next 10 years,” the email said. “I know there is no way I can be sure that you are the right person to live in my house because we won’t be able to meet in physical before sending you the keys and the documents to occupy the house. If you believe you can take good care of the house and handle it like yours then I will be more than happy to let you rent the house.”
The email requested a refundable security deposit of $700 and asked for personal information, such as the person’s date of birth, occupation and monthly income. It also asked how soon the deposit could be sent.
According to the Tracy Police Department crime log, another realtor reported a similar scam on Monday, Oct. 28, involving a property on the 2100 block of Bridle Creek Circle. That realtor reportedly discovered the matter when a Texas resident inquired about the false rental.
According to Tracy police Sgt. Luis Mejia, prospective renters should watch for certain signs to distinguish a legitimate rental from a scam.
“If they are hesitant to meet you in person, that should be a red flag to you,” he said.
Among the warning signs is any request to have money sent by Western Union, particularly before paperwork has been signed. If the person claiming to have the right to rent a home cannot show the property before renting it, something may be wrong.
“It’s common practice in rentals that there be some type of written agreement,” Mejia added. “These are all things to look for.”
• Contact Denise Ellen Rizzo at 830-4225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.