We here at the Off-Campus Housing 101 value our customers. We greatly appreciate the trust you give us to help you with your rental needs. We have had many success stories of both students and landlords using our service, but occasionally we hear reports of people attempting to defraud our users.
There are many known scams, and new ones are invented every day. Below is a list of common scams (or "pitches"). Read more for a detailed description plus some tips on how to avoid being caught in one!
Remember, it is always easier to stay out of trouble than to get out of trouble. Using common-sense is your best defense; never send money to anyone that you haven't first verified the legitimacy of.
We have created these Rental Listing Fraud Awareness webpages to help educate our customers so that they are able to achieve their goals - which are renting their property, finding a property to rent or finding a roommate - and do so in confidence and without fear.
Off-Campus Housing 101 is an online classified style advertising system...but better. We will pull any ad that looks suspicious off of our websites immediately. If you suspect an ad is not legitimate on one of our sites, please contact us by email (please include the Ad listing number) at firstname.lastname@example.org seven days a week., Monday to Friday, 7:00 am to 4 pm PST.
Please Note: We are not involved in transactions between you and any of the individuals you communicate with outside of our network. We do not guarantee any transaction, certify any landlords or renters, nor do we provide protection for payments transacted between our customers and outside parties.
Contrary to popular belief, scammers do not "only use the free sites." They occasionally target premium paid sites to make their scams seem more convincing.
Customers have asked us, "can someone steal my ad, personal information or pictures on this site?" Unfortunately, yes. Copying and pasting ads, or parts of an ad, is not a crime. Scammers "steal" their ad material from various classified ad sites - and even more surprising, they take material from independent real estate sites and the real estate Multiple Listing Service! So should you stop using pictures on our site? No! Pictures are what is going to get your home rented!
To help prevent your data from being stolen, we suggest you do not use the actual house number on their listings (use "Apple Drive" instead of "123 Apple Drive" or use cross-streets, like "Apple Drive and Peach Road" so prospective renters can still Google Map your location). This makes your ad less desirable for scammers to use since they need an actual physical address to send people to.
Please Note: On our "Add a Listing" form (where you originally created your ad) in the bottom of the "Current Contact Info" section, you will find the following statement regarding the possibility of your information being made public on the internet. You can easily "modify" your listing (by creating an Alternate Contact) to follow these guidelines:
This contact information may be indexed by Google and other search engines. If you are concerned, please utilize the 'Alternate Contact' feature to display only the information you wish to be made public. We recommend not using your last name for example. If it is on the Internet, then it is going to be indexed without notice by the search engines.
It is always easier to stay out of trouble, than to get out of trouble
The 900 scams are a variation on a prize scheme. The consumer is encouraged, usually through an offer in the mail, to call a 1 900 number in order to find out how much money he or she has won. The implication is that you have won a large prize - cash, cars, boats etc., and your brief phone call will confirm which prize is yours.
The offer usually states the cost of the call per minute - around $4.99 - and the average length of the call, which is usually 7 or 8 minutes. Most of these numbers are linked to a voice response system (a computer), which prevents you from speeding up the call. More often than not, the prize available is minimal (one or two dollars), and you will lose $35.00 for every call you make.
You must take the time to read the offer carefully and understand your odds of winning.
The federal government advises that some telephone companies offer free services that will block access to all 900/976 numbers.
For example blocking services for residential customers are usually free, but customers who change their mind may have to pay a $10.00 fee to remove the block and reactivate 900/976 services.
Some companies charge a fee to block 900/976 services. Offers vary and customers should check with their telephone provider for details.
In the Untited States and Canada, we have a long and honorable tradition of voluntarily giving to those in need, often through charity organizations.
But if an unfamiliar charity organization contacts you - by mail, phone, or Internet - be careful.
Bogus charities often use names that are very close to the names of legitimate and respected charities. The end of the year is the peak season for charity appeals. It also is the peak season for the bogus charity appeals.
An overseas individual (usually from Africa or the UK) contacts you via email saying they are moving to your area in the next few weeks due to a job transfer and needs a place to rent. Their email is full of rambling detailed personal information, assurances of their trustworthiness and honesty, usually overtly friendly and religious in nature. Even though they are highly educated professional individuals (engineers, doctors, scientists or ministers), their use of the English language, grammar and spelling is terrible. You are asked to please email the rental terms as well as the property details and pictures (even though the information is on your listing) to them ASAP. Generally, these individuals want to rent your property sight-unseen, ask you to take your Ad offline (offering to pay you to do so) and sometimes even ask you to oversee the arrival of their furnishings. A third party will be issuing you a cheque on their behalf.
Soon an authentic-looking cheque complete with watermarks arrives in the mail. These fake cheques look so real that they even fool the bank tellers. However, the amount on the cheque is for way more than you agreed upon (sometimes they pre-warn you it's going to be more) explaining the extra funds are to cover travel or moving expenses. Usually it creates a financial shortage for the tenant. They engage you emotionally, imploring you to deposit the cheque quickly (assuring you that the funds are indeed there) and ask you to immediately wire-transfer the difference to a foreign account, of course, inviting you to keep a generous amount for your trouble.
The money is transferred as asked. The "tenant" never shows but has your money. The check that was sent to you bounces and you are left to cover the insufficient funds and overdraft fees.
If you buy into any of the Prize Pitch schemes, you are likely to be called again by someone promising to get your money back for you. Be careful not to lose more money to this common practice.
Throughout Canada and the United States letters concerning the request for urgent business transactions, usually the transfer of millions of dollars, are being sent out to consumers and businesses via mail, email and fax. These letters are commonly referred to as Nigerian Letter Scams or West African Fraud Letters.
The scheme begins once a consumer receives a letter. Letters are sent by mail, fax and email, with email being the preferred method of delivery. PhoneBusters have seen an increase in email delivery. In addition to stressing the urgency and confidentiality of a transaction, these letters will also stress the importance of trust and honesty in order to make the reader believe that there is a validity to the letter. For instance, the writers of these letters will commonly claim to be a doctor and/or a corporate entity with a major corporation of Nigeria. There will also be some mention of government involvement.
Typically, after receiving a letter a consumer would respond either by phone, fax, or email. The response would be a request for further information on the requirements and procedure for the transaction. Once contact is established, the writer of the letter will normally ask for an up front processing fee and in some cases arrange for a meeting to discuss the transfer of funds. Most letters come with a breakdown of the percentage of money each party involved will receive once the transaction is final.
PhoneBusters advises consumers not to open unsolicited emails. Spam usually means scam and the message may contain a virus that can damage your computer.
Copies of the letters (regardless of country origin) can be directly forwarded to PhoneBusters via fax at 1-888-654-9426 or by email at email@example.com.
Maybe you never opened that account, or ordered an additional card, but someone else did....someone who used your name and personal information to commit fraud. When an imposter co-opts your name, your Social Security Number (SSN) or your Social Insurance Number (SIN), your credit card number, or some other piece of your personal information for their use (in short, when someone appropriates your personal information without your knowledge) it is a crime, pure and simple.
If you have been a victim of identity theft, the Identity Theft Statement helps you notify financial institutions, credit card issuers and other companies that the entity theft occurred, tell them that you did not create the debt or charges, and give them information they need to begin an investigation. Make as many copies of the Statement as you will need to notify all affected companies.
Remember: There is no reason to be paranoid; but there is just reason to be careful. If someone wants desperately to target you, they can probably get a lot of information about you -- so you just need to minimize the criminal's opportunities to get that information. You can make yourself a harder target and that is the best defense. If you are a victim, do not panic, you will not be out any money. The losses will be attributed to the banks and or companies associated with the fraud.
Minimize the Risk: While you probably can't prevent identity theft entirely, you can minimize your risk. Identity theft is on the rise and it can happen to anyone. It can happen to you. By managing your personal information wisely, cautiously and with an awareness of the issue, you can help guard against identity theft.
The word phishing comes from the analogy that Internet scammers are using email lures to 'fish' for passwords and financial data from the sea of Internet users.
Phishing, also called "brand spoofing" is the creation of email messages and Web pages that are replicas of existing, legitimate sites and businesses. These Web sites and emails are used to trick users into submitting personal, financial, or password data. These emails often ask for information such as credit card numbers, bank account information, social insurance numbers, and passwords that will be used to commit fraud.
The goal of criminals using brand spoofing is to lead consumers to believe that a request for information is coming from a legitimate company. In reality it is a malicious attempt to collect customer information for the purpose of committing fraud.
By simply filling out a ballot to win a vacation at a home, boat or auto show, you may be set up for "suckers lists". Shortly after filling out this ballot, you may be contacted over the phone by someone claiming to offer you a "free" or "low cost" vacation. They will ask for your credit card number and personal information in order to hold the vacation for you, or they may request money in advance.
Don't give out your credit card information over the phone. If you want to check out the value of these promises, seek out the advice of a legitimate travel agency in your area. If you have provided credit card information to the telemarketers, be aware that most companies have policies that allow you to cancel your reservation within 30 days. Do not let anyone pressure you into committing to any agreement over the phone.
Ads that promise loans generally appear in classified sections of local and national newspapers, magazines and tabloids.
Some companies claim they can guarantee you a loan even if you have bad credit or no credit. They usually request an up front fee, which may range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Once you send your money to these companies, you never get your promised loan and you cannot get your money back. If you cannot get a loan through traditional lending institutions, it is unlikely that you'll get one in response to a classified ad. Ask the loan company to take the amount of their fee off of the total amount of the loan that was promised you. In most jurisdictions, it is illegal for a company to request an up front fee prior to obtaining a loan.
A very wealthy stranger has died and you are asked to assist with banking and to share the wealth.
You receive a wordy letter, or email message, from a stranger, seeking your assistance in moving large amounts of money, often millions of dollars, to your bank account. You are promised a very significant percentage for little or no effort on your part, perhaps as high as 20%, for simply providing your bank account details. You may be asked to be a trustee or to stand in as a long lost heir of a deceased's fortune.
A web site may even be provided so you can confirm the tragic death of some wealthy individual. The fortune may be said to be in cash in a safety deposit box, evidenced by a Certificate of Deposit. The message may have political overtones or refer to a diplomat in another country who will broker the transfer of the money, often through some 'back door' arrangement. You may be provided an overseas phone number and asked to indicate whether or not you are interested so that alternative plans can be made should you decide not to participate.
Beware of tragic deaths and persons looking for your assistance in moving large amounts of money and to fulfill the role of trustee or heir. Legitimate estates do not solicit trustees or heirs in this manner and do not promise to carry out the exercise 'through the back door.' If someone promises you 20% of a fortune for doing little else than provide banking details, it is too good to be true, and if it is too good to be true, it probably is not true.
This inheritance scheme could end here with the takeover of your bank account and depletion of your funds by a number of fraudulent means. A second phase of the scheme could be invoked, in which you are asked to pay an up front fee in order to collect your so-called inheritance. You do not normally pay money to collect money. This is also known as an advance fee scam.
One of the most common scams is the "prize pitch." Consumers are told they have been specially selected to win a prize, or have been awarded one of three or two of five prizes. These prizes usually include cash or a vehicle. You must purchase a product and pay in advance to receive your prize. These products may include "coin collections," personalized pen sets, etc. The products are generally cheap or overpriced, but may sound valuable over the phone.
You may also encounter the "sweepstakes scam." After entering a fake sweepstakes contest in the mail, you will receive a call within two to four weeks from a fraudulent telemarketer. This person will usually identify themselves as a lawyer, judge, customs agent or other official. They will represent themselves as an agent for a particular company. You will be told that you have won a large cash award, but money must be sent up front for taxes, etc.
Just as Internet surfers have gotten wise to the fine art of phishing, along comes a new scam utilizing a new technology. Creative thieves are now switching their efforts to "vishing," which uses Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phones instead of a misdirected Web link to steal user information.
Phishing is the sneaky art of sending an e-mail to people pretending to be from a bank or major online merchant, such as Amazon or eBay, asking them to click on a link and verify their account information. The user is then directed to a fake site that collects the login and password information. Repeated efforts on the part of security firms have educated users to be cautious about clicking on links from unknown senders.
But now, the criminal element has shifted from asking people to click on links to placing a phone call instead. Only the number isn't to a bank or credit card, it's to a VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) phone that can recognize telephone keystrokes. The thieves don't even use an e-mail blast, they use a war dial over a VOIP system to blanket an area. A recorded message tells the person receiving the call that their credit card has been breached and to "call the following (regional) phone number immediately." When the user calls the number, another message is played stating "this is account verification please enter your 16 digit account number." The rest is academic.
Secure Computing, which specializes in secure connections over networks, sent up the red flag over this new method. Secure Computing engineers have been tracking news group sites and open disclosure discussion groups discussing vishing.
"This is just a natural evolution of phishing itself," said Paul Henry, vice president of strategic accounts for Secure Computing. "Simply put, people are becoming more aware of the fact that an e-mail containing a URL could be malicious in nature. So hackers are moving away from the URL and using something victims are more familiar with like calling a number." Henry said Secure Computing raised the issue over a year ago, but the first recorded incident took place last month, involving a Santa Barbara bank, then a second incident in early July involving Paypal.
Henry said there is no real preventative technology solution. Caller ID spoofing is very simple, and VoIP providers like Skype allow customers to pick not only their area code but the prefix as well, so it's possible to pick a phone number in the same area code and prefix of a major bank. To that end, Henry thinks the VOIP companies could help with the issue by being a little stricter in their signup process, but doesn't think they will. "These VOIP companies are in the business of producing value for their shareholders, so they are trying to drive down transaction costs. They want establishment of a new account to be as fast and painless as possible," Henry said.
At this point, common sense is your best defense, said Henry. "If you receive an e-mail that would direct you to a telephone number, don't use that number. Contact your credit card provider or whoever with a known number that's good." Daniel Hong, senior voice business analyst for Datamonitor, concurred that users need to be educated all over again. "There's definitely vulnerability, because this is a completely new approach, especially in terms of customer behavior and customer psyche," Hong said. There's been a lot of education on Internet scams, but there hasn't been a lot of awareness concerning the phone. So if there's an automated phone prompting you, it seems more credible than getting an e-mail blast from hackers out there." More stringent measures for VoIP account activation could help, but in the end, education might be the best solution. "If the hacker is able to get to the consumer," said Hong, "then education will make the difference."
Fraudulent cheques are used in a variety of scams such as advance fee letter fraud, overpayment and prize pitch to name a few.
Overpayment scams is the type of fraud where the person receiving the cheque is actually owed money for goods sold. The seller receives a counterfeit cashier's cheque, personal cheque or corporate cheque from the "purchaser" in an amount in excess of the amount owed; is asked to deposit the check/cheque and wire the excess funds immediately back to the sender/purchaser or the purchaser's agent or shipper; and, the deposited cashier's cheque is subsequently returned as counterfeit and charged back to the seller's account.
Anyone selling goods should be suspicious of any cheque, especially if it is for more than the agreed selling price. Consider an alternative method of payment, such as an escrow service or online payment service. Talk to your bank about the safest way to receive funds from overseas.
To protect yourself against this sort of scam, never agree to a deal in which the payer wishes to issue an amount for more than the agreed price and expects you to reimburse the balance. The scammers use a variety of excuses to explain the overpayment, but any such excuse should be treated with the utmost suspicion.
Every year, thousands of companies get fooled into buying "bargain" photocopier/fax toner, office supplies or directories over the phone. The sales person claims it's a "special offer", or "prices will be going up soon" and you have to buy today.
But if you check the bill when it arrives, it's not a bargain at all. The price may be 50% - 300% higher than usual. And worst of all, you may have bought substandard product.
Does your office staff know these warning signs? Here are some common approaches used by telemarketers to trick people over the phone.
An overseas landlord has a very cheaply priced (or even free) property. In order to "prove" their ability to pay for a deposit or rental fees, a potential tenant is asked to wire transfer a large amount of funds to a friend or relative. The tenant is reassured there is no risk in doing this, since the landlord does not have access to the transferred funds. All they are requiring is a faxed or scanned copy of the wire transfer receipt to "prove" they have enough money to cover the rental payments. This leaves the potential renter with a false sense of security because they think the funds will surely be returned. The friends or relatives are not allowed to go and retrieve the funds until the prospective landlord verifies the transaction was valid, using the receipt the tenant provided them with.
The landlord takes the copy of the receipt to their nearest Western Union office, not to verify the transaction, but to actually remove the money! All they needed to pull this off is the sender's name and address; the recipient's name (the friend or relative) and address; the Money Transfer Control Number (MTCN) and the transfer amount. Knowledge of this information is considered sufficient proof by the wire transfer company and the money is handed over with a (false) signature taken for the receipt! Police are powerless to do anything because the victims voluntarily told the scammer the information they needed to take their money!
These landlords want to only communicate via email (again, the language, grammar and spelling in their emails is terrible). Usually the price on their listing is extremely low for the market - or sometimes free! The story they tell you is that they were suddenly transferred (again, usually to the UK or Africa) and they want someone to care for their home until they return. The catch? The keys to the property are still in their possession (overseas) and there is no one locally who can show you the property in their absence.
They encourage you to drive by and if you are interested, they have you fill out a rental agreement via email, sending a deposit (express mail a money order or cashier's cheque, or wire transfer money via Western Union or MoneyGram). Once the funds have been received, they will then send you the keys. Once that has been done, the Overseas Landlord has your money - but the keys to the property never arrive.