LORAIN, Ohio - The housing market is rebounding, but renters are so desperate for good housing they're falling for ripoffs. It's a widespread problem impacting realtors, renters and homeowners.
The home buying and renting process typically starts online. Doing your research behind a computer may cost you money, personal privacy, or personal information.
"I gave him my name. How much we make a month. What our dog's names are. I gave him all of this," said Melissa Gnizak.
Gnizak first saw a posting on Craigslist for a rental home.
"I'm thinking $450 for a three bedroom. Ok this is Lorain," Gnizak explained.
Gnizak said the ad even had pictures. An email from the supposed landlord included an address. We went to that location, but we didn't find the home pictured as described.
"There's sure not any high beams in the house," Kim Cosco said. Her landlord doesn't advertise on craigslist, but this isn't the first time the home she lives in was used in an illegitimate ad. It happened about a year ago, shortly after Cosco moved in when someone put a note on the door to see inside.
"It makes me feel violated," Cosco said.
"We've taken steps to secure our photos so this doesn't happen, yet it still is," Re/Max Beyond 2000 realtor Mary Early said.
Real estate companies use watermarks. Most we found in Northeast Ohio are in the corner of the picture. Thieves just crop out the watermark. In some parts of the country, realtors watermark the middle of the picture making it harder to steal.
"It's very common and people have been scammed and that's the sad part of it," Early said.
Gnizak caught on before she handed over cash, but she's still concerned.
"I gave up all my personal information. It's easy to trace anybody on the Internet," Gnizak said. She realized something was wrong when the supposed landlord wanted money before she even saw the home. She missed the other big clue: a sob story from the supposed owner indicating he was stuck in Africa.
When you're looking to rent or buy property, deal locally. Don't hand over any cash until you see the property. Do your research before you give away personal information. At the very least, make sure the picture in the ad matches the actual picture of the home. It's as easy as looking online for an address and mapping it in a browser.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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