The listing for a rental house in a family-oriented Grand Strand neighborhood for only $600 a month appeared to be a good deal, only it was a scam perpetrated by a criminal using the name of a dead man.
The bogus rental deal for the house in Fairway Pointe was spotted on the website Craig’s List by a neighbor last week who thought the rental price suspicious, especially since the house had only been put on the market two weeks ago with a $250,000 asking price.
The Homeowners Association was alerted and they contacted the owners, who said the house was not for rent and confirmed it was a scam.
It turns out their house listing had been hijacked verbatim from a national real estate site called Zillow. The bogus rental ad appeared on Craig’s List and listed Ken Broderick as the homeowner, along with an email address to contact.
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Broderick is a previous owner of the property, who died several years ago, according to representatives with the neighborhood’s HOA.
When contacted by email about the listing, the scammer said he moved out of state two months ago to take a new job, and was “giving the rent out low because I just need someone to help take care of the house while I’m away, it’s not about the money.”
Only it is about the money. The object of the scam is to get an unsuspecting person to send them a down payment, through unusual channels, without ever being able to meet them or see the property first.
“They try to get your information and make it sound urgent that you send money through Western Union, MoneyGram or a paid Visa card,” said Stephani James, crime prevention officer with the Myrtle Beach Police Department.
“That should be your red flag,” said James, who hosted a recent seminar with local real estate agents about industry scams, including the fake rentals.
“If they can’t meet you or show the property and can only send pictures, that should be another red flag as well,” James said.
Here’s how the fake “Ken Broderick” pitched his scam:
“Please note that I would not be available to do a one on one showing because I work multiple jobs and have also had some additional obligations to take care of since my father passed away a month ago - it's been a very busy time.”
Not only is the excuse fishy, but it also conflicts with his earlier statement that he’s renting the house because he moved out of state.
He says that potential renters can’t actually go inside the house before signing a lease, but should drive by and look inside the windows.
“I would strongly suggest that a person looking to rent, make sure you meet in person with a realtor and walk through the property, validate he is a real agent, and get a contract in writing,” James said.
Renters who have been scammed should report it to the police, James said, as well as the Federal Trade Commission.
The property owners in Fairway Pointe went a step further after they were told of the plot, and contacted Craig’s List to have the ad removed.
The scam was first spotted by neighbor Kristie Moore, an employee at the Sun News, who said “it just seemed odd.”
The house had just been listed for sale, and Moore said most houses in the neighborhood would easily rent for at least $1,000.
“It included all utilities, it was just too good a deal,” said Tom McCarthy, who is president of the Fairway Pointe HOA. “I guess we know if it’s too good to be true, it is.”
HOA Board Member Gary Magiera said it wasn’t just the rental price that caught their attention, but the name used by the scammer.
Ken Broderick did own the house at one time, but he died years ago, Magiera said.
Magiera described a similar situation a few years ago following the sale of another house in the neighborhood. Numerous folks knocked on the door after the new owners moved in, asking if the house was still for rent.
“You gotta feel sorry for someone who would send $600, show up, and there’s no one there with the key,” Magiera said.
Norm Clay with Garden City Realty is the president of the Coastal Carolina Association of Realtors, and he says the rental scam doesn’t just affect homes for sale, but vacation rental property as well.
“It has been an issue for several years,” Clay said. “We see it more in vacation rental properties than anything else, because you get these quick turnovers, week after week, and people are scamming by using properties that are for rent.”
Vacationers have called rental management agencies to pick up keys, only to learn that they paid a deposit to a scammer, and the property is sometimes not even available, Clay said.
“Never, never, never send money to anyone that you don’t know who they are, never do that,” Clay said. “And that’s the problem we’re seeing up and down our area. This is an ongoing internet scam.”
He advises vacationers and others looking to rent to make sure they are dealing with a professional real estate or property management agent and company.
“Verify they are local and they’ve been here a long time. Don’t take chances, and never send money through an internet ad, but through a legitimate company that is certified and registered,” Clay said.
“Be careful how and where you are sending money. There is no way to track it down once it’s lost,” Clay said.
Property owners can also help prevent their property from being used as bait for scammers by Googling their address to make sure their rental or sale ad is the only one online, Clay said. If someone has hijacked your property, the actual address will be included in the fake advertisement.