Scammers target renters on trusted site

GEORGETOWN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Crooks have been using Zillow.com and other trusted real estate sites to rip off people looking to rent.

Using Zillow, Tara Norman and Barey Schweitzer thought they found the perfect house: A two-bedroom in Jenison for $700 per month. So Norman emailed the listed contact address, saying they were interested.

“Within a couple of hours, I got a response back and with an application and a huge email,” she said.

The email said the house’s previous owner had moved for work and priced the house low because they didn’t need the money, but wanted someone to keep it up.

Norman thought it was legitimate, so she filled out the application and sent it back. She got an email saying she had been approved. All she had to do was send $1,400 for the deposit and the keys would be in the mail.

Norman and Schweitzer decided to check the place out before they paid any money. When they went by the home, they saw a for sale sign.

“It was obviously a scam. We knew right there,” Schweitzer said.

She and Schweitzer called Jeff Northouse, the realtor selling the home.

“I can see where somebody posted my listing as a rental and they used my description  — or at least a portion of it — and then added in capitals, ‘long- and short-term lease,'” Northouse said.

He said it would be easy to fall victim to the scam.

“They were using the owner’s last name, so it sounds really legit. If someone where to look up this property, they’d figure they were talking to the owner,” Northouse said.

He said there’s no way to tell on the website that it’s not a legitimate listing.

Northouse said the best way to avoid getting scammed is to find a local number or address for the listing, or go to the property and talk to neighbors. Realtors can also help — they have software that provides information on property owners.

The case of the Jenison home is the first of its kind for the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office. Grand Rapids had two similar cases last year.

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