Get a sticker; stop a fraudster.
That’s the message of the Greater San Diego Association of Realtors, which Friday unveiled a new tool for fighting real estate and rental fraud in San Diego — a small red-and-black sticker.
The program is designed to combat an increasing number of online scams using sites like Craigslist and Zillow.
SDAR’s Ambassadors Foundation made a sticker available that can be placed on windows in vacant, for-sale homes announcing that the residence is “Not for Rent.”
“We’ve all heard the stories,” said local Realtors President Leslie Kilpatrick, working with District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the California Bureau of Real Estate and the San Diego County Apartment Association.
“A vacant for-sale home is fraudulently advertised online for rent for an incredibly low price. The potential victim calls the number and is instructed to drive past the property to see if they like it.
“There’s usually an excuse why they can’t show the inside, such as the landlord is out of town. The person then requests a wire deposit, the money is sent, and that’s the last they ever hear from him or her.”
The stickers will make it clear to anybody viewing the outside of the home that it is for sale and not for rent. Information on the stickers includes a phone number for the listing agent and the District Attorney’s Office, and also a link to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, www.ic3.gov.
“These types of crimes are nearly impossible to prosecute because the scammers are usually based overseas,” said District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. “That’s why it’s important for consumers to do their homework. Don’t wire or send money unless you have personally verified that you are dealing with the person authorized to rent or sell the home.”
Alan Pentico, executive director of the apartment association, stressed that no one should rent a property sight unseen.
“Make sure you meet the landlord or a representative in person and gain access to the inside of the home or apartment,” Pentico said. “If you’re out of town, send someone you trust to inspect the place.”
The apartment group has put together a list of tips to help renters and landlords avoid rental scams. It can be found at sdcaa.com/resident-resources/renting-in-san-diego/426-rental-scams.
Wayne Bell, chief executive of the California Bureau of Real Estate, said his organization has received reports about online rental scams on such Internet sites such as Zillow, Trulia, Craigslist and HotPads.
“There are almost endless varieties of real estate and rental fraud,” Bell said. “Some are new. Many are old, and some are just variations on timeworn scams.”
“Broad use of these innovative sticker signs, along with consumer education, will effectively help reduce the incidence of imposter landlords and rental fraud,” Bell said.
To obtain stickers, or get more information, visit ambassadorsfoundation.org/programs/fraud-prevention/.