Tackling the problem of real estate scammers
Since the dawn of time, real estate scams have run rampant, and with the advent of the internet, scams have gotten even more creative, widespread, and dangerous. Not only do people lose rent deposits, buy property that didn’t actually belong to the seller, but in rare cases, scammers set up consumers to steal their personal information or worse.
HotPads.com sees nearly 5.5 million visitors monthly and as with any real estate site, they are not immune from scammers, which the company takes very seriously. Paul Gleger, HotPads Director of Marketing and Communications tells AGBeat, “Over the last several months we have been unleashing a heavy assault on scammers” in what the company has dubbed “Operation Sparta” with five specific lines of attack:
- Phone verification
- Machine learning
- Promoting quality listings
- Clear messaging
- User reporting
Identifying the Scammers
In a statement, HotPads outlines how the typical scam works. “The scammer copies a legitimate listing, lowers the price, changes the contact details, and uploads the fake listing through one of the popular online listing sites. Elaborate emails follow, where the scammer tries to convince the housing shopper to wire money in exchange for a prompt transfer of keys. As obvious as this scam scenario sounds, even the most seasoned online housing shoppers sometimes fall for the trick.”
While each real estate search company is vulnerable to these illegal scams, HotPads says that “finding and blocking fraudulent listings is one of our top priorities and requires the attention of almost everyone on the team,” which they will answer to by combining prompt customer support, advanced technology, and clear messaging we can do our part in battling scammers.
Battling the Scammers
Phone verification: all listings created on HotPads now require phone verification which the company says is already having a “noticeable impact,” and says that they hope other housing sites will take notice and follow.
Machine learning: HotPads has an advanced fraud detection system which is constantly scanning millions of listings, taking notice of hundreds of variables associated with known scams, and learning new scam tricks in the process. This speeds up the time it takes to pinpoint suspicious listings and the company says the system gets smarter over time.
Promoting quality listings: although not a guaranteed metric for trust, HotPads’ map search features prominent building icons when a listing has a more thorough profile, more photos, longer descriptions and sometimes are from vetted users.
Clear messaging: Yellow warning signs now appear throughout the site, pointing out typical scam tactics, offering information about avoiding fraud.
User reporting: Like many sites, there is a flagging system for suspicious listings which HotPads says they are committed to looking at daily and take action immediately.
“While we may be one of the cleaner sites out there, we won’t be satisfied until all scammers are kicked off HotPads,” the company said. While some of these measures are used on other real estate search sites, the company is passionate about encouraging all real estate sites to step up their game in the battle against scammers and adopt the measures of Operation Sparta.