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FBI warns of rental, real estate frauds

SAN DIEGO - The FBI is warning property owners and real estate customers to be alert for potential scams stemming from online advertisements. The agency’s cyber investigations unit has received numerous complaints from victims of scams involving apartments and home rentals and as well as online real estate sales.

One type of scam begins when a property owner is contacted by a prospective tenant. Once a rental price is agreed upon, the scammer forwards a check for the deposit on the rental property.

The check, which is purportedly sent to cover housing expenses, is often written in excess of the amount required. The scammer then asks for the remainder of the funds to be remitted back. In other instances, according to the agency alert, the check is written for the correct amount but the scammer backs out of the deal asks for a refund.

Since banks typically don’t place a hold on such funds, the victim has immediate access to them and believes the check has cleared. In the end, the check is found to be forged or counterfeit and the victim is held responsible by the bank for all the losses.

Another type of scam identified by the agency involves real estate that is posted via classified advertisement Websites.

The scammer duplicates postings from legitimate real estate websites and reposts these ads after altering them. Often, the scammers use the broker’s real name to create a fake e-mail address, which gives the fraud more legitimacy.

When the victim sends an email through the classified advertisement website inquiring about the home, they receive a response from someone claiming to be the owner. The fake owner then claims he and his wife are currently on missionary work in a foreign country. Therefore, they need someone to rent their home while they are away.

If the victim is interested in renting the home, they are then asked to send money to the owner in the foreign country.

Agency officials urge anyone who has been targeted by an Internet crime to file a complaint at


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