Thursday, September 20, 2012

CCSO, NABOR Issue Rental Scam Alert

If you’re a renter and think you’ve been scammed, report it.

That’s the message from the Collier County Sheriff’s Office and Naples Area Board of Realtors (NABOR) in the wake of recent arrests of people charged with illegally entering foreclosed homes and then leasing them to unsuspecting persons.

Deputies suspect this scam is occurring more frequently than it is being reported. Some reasons for not reporting it may include that the victim is embarrassed or falsely believes this is a civil matter.

The Sheriff’s Office and NABOR are partnering to raise community awareness about rental scams so nobody becomes a victim.

Here’s a look at some of these scams:

* A scammer posing as a property owner changes the locks on a vacant house or condo and offers it as a rental. These houses are often in foreclosure or for sale. The renter (victim) pays rent and a down payment and is given the keys to the residence. Only later does the tenant discover that he or she is in the house illegally. The renter is then forced out of the house and is out hundreds or thousands of dollars.

* A scammer posts a notice on Craigslist, in local newspapers or other social media sites advertising homes for rent, often using the legal owners name in the return e-mail address. To gain the victim’s trust they usually advise they have vacated the home to complete a lengthy religious mission and attempt to take advantage of the persons religious beliefs to gain their trust and appear credible. Photographs of the residence (interior and exterior) sometime accompany the posting.

* A scammer places ads for a home for rent or lease on Craigslist, in local newspapers and similar sites. The ads have photographs of the homes and descriptions that appear to be taken directly from Realtor-related websites, such as and Unsuspecting victims generally meet with the person or sometimes they portray themselves to be the owner or a representative of the owner. A fraudulent lease is signed and a set of keys given to the victim. Generally the victim is given the address of the home at that point and the suspects leave. Once the victim arrives at the address they learn the deal was fraudulent because the key doesn’t work or there’s a for-sale sign on property or the home is occupied.

Here are some tips for renters, homeowners and Realtors to help deter these frauds:

* Homeowners going through foreclosure should be aware they are still legally responsible for the home until the foreclosure is finalized and the bank takes ownership. This process can take years.

* Once the home is vacant, ensure it is secured, including the lanai and back slider. Scammers often make entry via the back sliding glass door.

* The home should be physically inspected often, both inside and out, to ensure it is secure and vacant.

* If the home appears to be illegally occupied contact law enforcement .

* Periodically check Craigslist, local newspapers and other social media sites advertising homes for rent and look for your home, if it is listed. Realtors check for photos from current and past listings.

* Brokers should advise Realtors working for them they are breaking the law and could be arrested and lose their real estate license by entering homes illegally for the purpose of soliciting business by leaving business cards.

* Periodically check the mailbox of foreclosures or homes that are otherwise unoccupied for mail. Unscrupulous individuals have used these addresses as mail drops to further criminal schemes such as credit card and tax fraud.

If you suspect a home has been illegally occupied, call the Collier County Sheriff’s Office and request a deputy to take a report. The Sheriff’s Office will assist the legal owner or his/her representative to ensure the person(s) illegally occupying the home vacate the premises. However, it will be up to the rightful owner or representative to ask the tenants to vacate the premises and conduct any follow-up to ensure they have. Civil remedies and action pursuant to Title VI, Florida Civil Practice and Procedure, Chapter 83, Landlord and Tenant provisions may apply. As this is civil in nature, it is the responsibility of the landlord or his/her representative to ensure compliance with this chapter.

The victims in these cases can be the rightful owner and or the victim leasing/renting the property.

If you feel you’ve been scammed, call the Sheriff’s Office at 239.252.9300. You may also anonymously report suspected crime via the CCSO website at and under “How Do I?” click “Tip Us Off.”

If you wish to remain anonymous and be eligible for a reward , contact Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers at 1.800.780.TIPS (8477)