Despite repeated warnings from authorities and increased media coverage about rental scams and the scraping of on-line real estate listings, many consumers continue to fall victim. Because it’s free, CraigsList is perhaps the most common on-line platform used to perpetrate these scams. However, there are easy to implement techniques Arizona REALTORS® can use to protect themselves and their listings. This article will examine one of those techniques – the use of Google alerts.

While rental scams come in many forms, the most common version involves a scenario in which the perpetrator takes legitimate listing information and posts it on websites such as CraigsList. The listing information, including photos and a property description, is used by the pretend owner to list the property for rent. Rather than identify the phone number of the listing agent, the scam artist lists their own phone number and instructs prospective tenants to contact them directly. Ultimately, the perpetrator of the scam collects a deposit from unsuspecting would-be tenants who learn too late that their money has been taken by someone with no connection to the property. In some extreme cases, the individual pretending to be the owner breaks into an abandoned home, sometimes even changing the locks, and proceeds to show the home to interested tenants.

An effective tool to stop your listings from becoming the subject of a rental scam is to set up a Google alert for every property you have listed for sale. By way of this alert, you can be quickly notified if your listing has been added to a website without your permission. It’s also a good way to know where your listings are legitimately appearing on the internet.

To utilize Google alert, the first step is to log onto www.google.com/alerts. Once on the webpage, you simply type into the search box the address of the property you want to monitor. Next, click on the “show options” tab and the following dropdown box will appear:
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Use this box to first choose how often you wish to receive search results regarding the property you identified: (1) as it happens; (2) at most once a day; or (3) at most once a week. After selecting your preferred language and identifying your region as the United States, it is best to identify that you wish to receive “all results,” as opposed to “only the best results.”

Finally, you may want to ensure that Google alerts focus on a specific website, such as CraigsList. To do this, you will need to add your desired search directive immediately following the property address, separated by a colon punctuation mark. For example, if the property is located in Phoenix, following the address, you will type in “phoenix.craigslist.org.” Your search box will therefore look as follows:

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Note that there are no spaces in the search directive following the property address. Finally, you will receive an email from Google asking you to confirm or cancel your request. Once you confirm the request, you will begin receiving your alerts.

There are many legitimate rental ads on CraigsList and the company does its best to warn people about rental scams. Nonetheless, prospective tenants continue to fall prey. It is for this reason that REALTORS® should exercise diligence in monitoring where and why their listings appear on the internet.