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FOX43 Finds Out: Housing scams become harder to detect during COVID-19 Pandemic

Scammers are using new tactics to make it harder for you to tell if a home or apartment listing is a dream home or a dupe.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — There are so many options if you want to buy a new house or rent a new apartment.

When you look online, photos can make a place look better than it really is and, sometimes, the photos are just fake. 

FOX43 Finds Out shows you how to outsmart the scammers when it comes to selling or searching for a place to live. 

A 3 bedroom, 1 bath apartment in Swatara Township Dauphin, County could make a good home for a growing family. 

David Koup manages the property and listed it on the website Zillow hoping to find a good tenant. 

Then he started getting some odd questions from potential renters.

 "They question me, am I real or not real? I've been asked that a couple of times," said Koup.

Those people were skeptical because of a listing for what looks like the same apartment with the same on Craigslist, for about half the price. 

Koup said, "I went on to Craigslist to look, and my ad with all my images and all my details was duplicated, but it wasn't my contact information."

 Koup says someone even fell for the craigslist posting and is now out more than $1,400.

"It's just another scam to take people's money, it's just not fair."

It's not just happening to landlords like Koup.

FOX43 Finds Out found another apartment listing on Craiglist too, $700 for a 1 bedroom in downtown Harrisburg.

Scroll through the photos and it looks pretty nice, it even has an address listed at the bottom.

However, put that address into google and you'll see it's for the Executive House Apartments in Harrisburg.

Scroll through the photos provided on that website and the apartments look nothing alike. 

This is why Real Estate experts like Adam McCallister with McCallister & Myers real estate services says you should never use sites like Craigslist to find a home.

 "There are certain things that should have been left in the 90's. Faxing paperwork, AOL email addresses, and using Craigslist. That should not be used unless you're purposely trying to get scammed."

McCallister says as we get closer to a moratorium on evictions ending because of the covid-19 pandemic, this housing scam will likely become more common.

"I can see a situation where we're going to have a ton of foreclosures and distressed properties over the next year to 18-months that are going to be hitting because of all of this, so it's definitely something we're watching."

How can tell the difference between someone who doesn't want to meet in person because of the pandemic vs someone who is scamming you?"

McCallister said, "If someone is going, hey because of covid we're not meeting, you still need to do your verification to the point where you're comfortable and just don't take someone's word for it."

He says you can ask things like, can you facetime me from the building? or send me specific pictures of something in the apartment, from a different angle?

FOX43 Finds Out has a few more tips for both buyers and sellers.

#1: Reverse image search ANY photos of a place you find online.

Let's go back to that Harrisburg apartment that has the same address, but different photos.

If you reverse image search one of the photos from the craigslist ad, 19 different results will be displayed.

FOX43 Finds Out contacted the real executive house apartments and they confirmed this Craigslist listing is in fact a scam.

They say people should only look for apartments on their website which shows actual pictures of their property.

FOX43 Finds Out then emailed the seller from craigslist.

The person then sent us to this website to fill out more information and pay an application fee. 

Through an email exchange, I started questioning the legitimacy of the post and that is when the person stopped responding.

It only took a few seconds and a photo to realize that posting is a scam.

#2: When you're taking photos of the house or apartment for sale add a simple watermark on a place that can't be cropped.

You don't have to be a pro in photoshop, you can even use your phone to put the text on the shot. 

Something simple like your email or phone number for inquires.

This way it will be harder for scammers to use your photos on another website with their information for a scam.

#3: Go see the property in-person.

if the price of the place you're looking to live is far cheaper than other apartments or homes in the area, that's a red flag.

It's likely the place is a dump or a scam.

This is why real estate experts say you should try everything you can to physically see a property, to make sure it works for you.

If you have a story you want Jackie to look into, FOX43 wants to find out. Send her a message on Facebook or send an email to FOX43FindsOut@FOX43.com   


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