Regarding Rental Fraud — and Yelp Reviews

Shidler has been around for a while.

We pride ourselves on good service, and hospitality of our tenants and strong fiduciary duties to our owners.

You wouldn’t believe that reading a few yelp and google reviews starting in 2013 or so.
This came about during a string of crimes we in the office have dubbed “The Fake Robin”

With Jonathan Shidler having to go to court several times to defend and prove our innocence, and half of our own ads being taken up with some form of the following: Disclaimer and Warning Which often is overlooked (we are all inundated with warnings all the time, It is understandable)

And so have certain confidence scams–

Back in the 1920’s to the 2000’s it was News Paper Classified Ad fraud
Now, it is Trulia, Ziillow, and Craigslist Fraud.

But it is all the same and usually follows this pattern:

  1. A legitimate rental will be posted and syndicated out to advertise [123 DreamStreet]
  2. An illegitimate person will copy the listing and change only one or two items– how to contact to view the property
    (Instead of ALegitimateBroker@RealBrokerage.Com it can be “Real.Person.Broker@gmail/yahoo/msn/etc .Com“) or worse
  3. The “Faker” will make contact with someone, often even using the same name and license number on email signatures to falsify the sense of legitimacy. Even using the REAL office telephone number and office addresses– leaving some victims frustrated when they call. Or further “convinced” when asking “is 123 DreamStreet Available? Yes? Great!”
  4. Ask for Money (Application, Holding Deposit, etc)
  5. “You are approved!”*
  6. *“Send Money to this address…. out of state…. you know…. to the owner…. Money Order or Cash Only, Please”
  7. The Victim attempts to gain keys.
  8. “Well, we need you to give double deposit, the owner saw your credit, but we can get you in with that, sorry!”
  9. “We need to have the legal fee too” (in our case, they used our published rate to provide evictions to an owner)
  10. “Well, Can you pay rent upfront, we can lower your lease rate for the next year if you pay 6 months in advance”
    [Note: It is illegal in the State of California to demand more than more than 3x the Lease Scheduled rate for move in costs, outside of pet or special deposits (usually water filled furniture deposits)– For our friends up in San Francisco, I am so sorry that that is happening to you up there.]

Usually, by step 9, victims get irritated and try the other point of contact: The Office that was being imitated directly.

Which then, can follow a painfully familiar pattern:

  1. Denial: Contact the office to demand answers
    “I am sorry, 123 DreamStreet is already rented”
    “Yeah! By me!”
    “I am sorry, what?”
  2. Anger: Threats of violence/lawsuit/Angry Yelp Review
  3. Bargaining.
  4. Depression.
  5. Acceptance.

The industry as a whole has been struggling with this problem for over a century ever since the dawn of advertising.

 

From this sort of fraud, unfortunately, there are multiple victims:

The person looking for a home

The person imitated (us)

To ice this cake of victim-hood: we have a bit of an embarrassing rating on Yelp and Google (we always aim for 5 stars… alas…..)
And as is known, the review process to remove false or unearned reviews on most systems like this is nearly impossible.
A bad review that was our own doing– that we can own up and aim to do better.
However, I urge you to look at the lower reviews and note how they seem to all fit the same pattern of above of “asking for more money” and “never contacting except by email”

This is unfortunate, but something that we must address–

In recent years we have gone to great strides to insure proper advertising of rentals– and spent many man hours contacting various publishers of data to have certain email addresses scrubbed when published to prevent this sort of action, we have made increased contacts with the FTC, the Local Authorities, and Internet Specialists to attempt to bring some form of justice to this situation. We have done it in the past during a spat of “Rental Fraud” during the Recession era of 2007-2010 and we aim to continue to do what is within our limited scope of power to help alleviate this problem from our own shoulders, and that of the industry as a whole. Our current efforts of alerts have been working slowly, but no system is perfect, and we will continue to see this event occur, just as it did in the 1970’s and the 1990’s.
In the end, Be aware.

To our owners:
Your data is secure, and because of this shift, we are seeing potential tenants wary of “owner managed” properties and this is yet another area in which we have been spending the yeomen labor of attempting to mitigate and thwart.