'Scraping' scam hits local rental listings

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) – We have a scam alert for folks who are using the web to find a place to live.

Scraping involves con artists taking a real estate listing and re-posting it with false information.

"It's really frightening,” said Debbie Adams, Co-owner of Expert Property Management. “It almost always starts with them stealing a legitimate ad."

The scam is familiar to Adams.

She hears from a prospective renter who’s been duped at least once a week and very distinctly remembers one instance in particular.

"I had one person call me who was sitting in the driveway of one of our listings and of course our sign is in the yard, but they had stolen our ad off the Internet and placed another ad,” said Adams. “They showed up with their moving truck and quickly realized they were being scammed by someone."

Websites like Craigslist and HotPads are often used to facilitate- even Zillow and Trulia.

"The people who are doing the scamming and scraping are getting smarter," she said.

Here are some telltale signs a listing is fake.

"They've left the country unexpectedly and they're looking for somebody nice to take care of their home."

The scammer could also ask you to contact the homeowner directly or have you give them money before getting the keys to the rental.

Another sign that you've opened the door up to a scam is if you respond to a listing that promises, for instance, all utilities included like washer, dryer and water.

Some even go so far as to promise to include cable in the monthly rent.

The biggest giveaway, perhaps, is "if it's too good to be true,” said Heather Clary, with the Better Business Bureau of Lexington.

The description would go something like this...

"A big yard, numerous bedrooms and bathrooms and a two-car garage," said Clary.

One rental home, for example, was listed on Zillow as costing $900 a month.

Days later, the price shows the monthly rent is more than $1500, which is the actual listing.

Adams sees it all the time- wishful thinking-turned-desperation on the part of renters.

"They have nowhere to go and they've lost a lot of money."

She has some words of advice if you’re looking for a place to live.

"Be sure you're dealing with someone legitimate and never turn loose money until you know they're legitimate.”

REALTOR.com says it has programs that have helped block more than one-million pages daily from being scraped by scammers.

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