Rental Deposit & Squatting Bot Fraud

Rental Bot Scams and Squatting are on the increase worldwide

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Rental Deposit Fraud Scams

The Covid19 lockdowns forced many changes on almost every industry. In property leasing and sales, it now was suddenly not possible to view real-estate, and letting agencies and others really accelerated video viewings remotely for clients.  The property industry had already switched to on-line pictures and even 3d perspective video’s allowing potential clients to perform a virtual walk through of the property. It wasn’t such a bit stretch to go fully remote and offer properties unseen. 

Stuck in major cities, tenants wanted more space, and outside yard, an extra room and workspace, and more land. They were pretty desperate to move, and it seemed like a good option to fix a rental online and hope for the best. 

Taking advantage of this new situation, scammers have begun to aggressively target leasing listings and effectively hijack legitimate listings. 

Why? Armed with the listing details, location and pricing, they then illegitimately market similar or even the same property using social media or other direct to consumer marketing techniques. They then they charge you for fees, deposits, or even rent for homes that aren’t actually owned or managed by the scammers. Scammers simply dupe the potential lessors into parting with a cash deposit and several months rent in advance, for a dwelling they don’t own. 

In the USA Craig’s List is often used to promote these fake ads as many legitimate owners go direct to consumers avoiding letting agents fees, but direct offers are constant on many of the large social media networks.

This is a particular problem at the end bottom of the market, for potential tenants with poor credit, students with no credit history or other issues. The applications magically are accepted and pass any credit checks - and any flags are easily rectified by demanding more upfront cash.  Tenants with bad credit are willing to pay to ensure a good price on a long-term tenancy, and get duped into parting with even more money up-front. 

The duped parties turn up on the relevant date, try and move in, only to understand they have given over cash to the hackers, and have almost no chance of getting their money back. 

Squatting Scams

The USA has seen a large rise in illegal squatting over the past few months. As the homeless situation gets worse and worse, highly organised squatters are taking the initiative and cracking open other people's homes as they try and live rent-free. Squatters needs a good source of empty homes that won't attract too much attention from neighbours. Rental property listings can be a good source of data. Empty properties are hard to find, and scraping the residential listings enables the squatters to target a particular street or area that is full of rentals, and look for the abandoned or empty properties.

How do you avoid getting scammed by rental fraud bots? 

For the letting agencies, the number one is to stop bot traffic from hitting your listings. This is easier said that done. Many traditional WAF or old-school bot detection methods won’t stop determined content theft. The hackers typically use residential proxies, using real devices to fool fingerprint analysis. Captcha farms and GEN AI bots can readily pass CAPTCHA and other devices. Locking down listings is going to hurt your ROI from legitimate visitors? 

VerifiedVisitors operates at the edge of network to stop bots in their tracks BEFORE they even hit your website listings. Determined hackers using bots as a service providers can hide in residential proxies using millions of machines. However, VerifiedVisitors picks up the automated proxy network tell-tale signs, and simply blocks or challenges bots that attempt to hit your listings. 

For verified customers - you’re legitimate verified users, we allow them to pass, verified, and constantly checked, but with no interruptions to their user journey. 

Consumers and rental bot fraud

For the consumer the number one and easiest is to insist on visiting the properly in person with no upfront fees. Is this isn’t possible move on. That’s not your dream apartment, it’s someone’s nightmare. 

  1. Research online. You may find multiple listing for the property with different agents. The could be legitimate, but can be a red flag. Call up the management company’s listing - not the one on social medial, and verify which agents are legitimate and bona fide.
  1. Reverse image search with photos of the interiors can also show up the same images from a different property. Services like google images and have specialist reverse image search engines. The scammers steal images online from the contents e.g. of a 1 bed apartment, and will just re-use them accordingly. 
  2. Pay by credit card if you can - but avoid cash or wire transfer / crypto. With a card, you may have a chance of getting money back - but most scammers wait until funds are cleared before they allow you to move in and find out the key won’t work. 

Finally, it’s not much comfort but make sure you inform the legitimate letting agency. They have a vested interest in ensuring the legitimate consumers are protected. If all else fails you can also inform the FTC at it’s unlikely that you will ever get your money back, but at least the fraud is recorded. 

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