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Criminals Are Getting Smarter So Stay Safe

While the strength of the greater Houston real estate market has been a big positive for HAR members, it has also brought about some unwanted attention from some less scrupulous individuals.

Recently, we began receiving a large number of calls from members about two women who were burglarizing homes after seeing the homes. What made this scam/crime different is that one of the women would call the listing agent and claim to be a REALTOR® from Galveston who didn’t have a Supra Key to show her client homes in Houston. She would ask for an accompanied showing, which the listing agent would, of course, agree to. The other smart aspect of the crime is that the woman would use the name of an actual REALTOR® and her firm. This made it difficult to verify that the person who was calling was not the actual agent.

Obviously, some steps could be taken, such as calling the real agent to verify the appointment or to look up her picture on her agent profile, which would prove that it was not the same person once the fake “REALTOR®” showed up for the showing. In several cases, the real REALTOR® was contacted by the listing agent, so they could figure out that something wasn’t right. It should be noted that the real REALTOR® had absolutely no involvement in these crimes whatsoever and was essentially a victim of identity theft based on the alleged details.

The crime was perpetrated by one of the two women (the fake “REALTOR®” and her “client”) separating from the listing agent at one point during the showing and unlocking an exterior door. The two women, or whoever was in on the crime, would return later and steal items that they identified as valuable during the showing. Based on the number of calls we received with this same pattern, the theft were committed many times all across the area. At the time of printing of this publication, media reports are that one of the women has been arrested, while another is “wanted for questioning.”

scammers

The two burglaries of habitations that were the subject of the arrest were located on East 17th Street and Welch. If you have details about these or any other homes that were robbed under similar circumstances, please contact the Houston Police Department Burglary and Theft Division at 713-308-0900.

We have also received numerous reports about a continued scam that is taking place on sites that allow consumers to enter properties for sale on their own. These are some of the big national classified listing sites and other national real estate sites that display listings entered from some of these lesser known sites.

The scam involves taking a legitimate listing that is for sale and representing it as being for lease—usually at a “too good to be true” monthly payment. The scammers obtain the pictures from any of the online listing portals and usually send a very nice email in response to any inquiries. The “owner” of the home usually states that they are on a long-term mission trip in a foreign country or is a military family that has been deployed; anything that makes them seem legitimate and sympathetic.

What has taken it to the next level is that the scammers are researching to find out the name of the real owner of the property and are setting up fake email addresses in the real owners’ names. Again, it lends credibility to their claims that they are the real owner.

Since the “owner” is out of the state—or the country—they email a lease application and ask for first and last month’s rent, indicating that they will overnight the keys to the applicant upon approval. Unfortunately, many potential lessees have fallen victim to this, which obviously perpetuates it since it is successful. It also angers and makes life more difficult for the REALTORS® who have the legitimate listings for sale.  In some cases, when the property has been vacant, the new lessee has actually moved in to the home, only to learn days or weeks later that the property was never legitimately for lease in the first place. How could that happen?

The scammers are sometimes local and will actually go and break a back window to gain entry to the home and then go to the trouble to have the lock on the front door changed so that they then really do have a key that will unlock the home.

Did we mention that these criminals are getting way more sophisticated? Even though September is officially REALTOR® Safety Month, you should never let your guard down. Safety for you and your clients is the number one priority. If there is anything we can do to further help you in your business—especially with regard to safety—please don’t hesitate to let us know.

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