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‘A complete scam’

The Zillow listing reportedly asked interested buyers to call “Mandi” at a number with a Las Vegas area code.

The Star called the number and received a response requesting $200 through an online banking app be sent “to the owner’s mom” before moving forward with a home walk-through. It also claimed that buyers would receive a refund on the deposit if they decided against going forward with the purchase.

Bertram allegedly contacted Zillow, which asked for proof of homeownership. He says he sent the real estate marketplace a copy of his most recent Jackson County property tax receipt.

“I’ve heard nothing since,” Bertram said. “I’m kind of stuck here. People want to see the house. It’s just a complete scam.”

After The Star contacted Zillow the next day, communications representative Gina Cole responded saying the listing had been taken down as of that morning.

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Watch out for phony real estate listings in your home search

The FBI reports over 9,500 people were victims of real estate fraud in 2023 — amounting to more than $145 million in losses.

Oklahoma County Assessor Larry Stein warned in January that scammers were listing homes for sale online for unbelievably low prices and tricking prospective buyers into forking over cash deposits through Google Pay.

“People believe things they see on the internet particularly having to do with a deal,” Stein told News 9.

Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel also issued a consumer alert in March, making note of scams wrongfully listing Florida homes over Zillow and Facebook Marketplace.

“Purchasing a home is often the single largest expense a consumer will make in their lifetime, and entering a new lease on a rental home likewise represents a huge financial commitment,” said Nessel. “Sadly, when the sums reach such heights, fraudsters and scammers are drawn to these markets.”

The FBI, which has warned of a spike in these types of crimes, offers tips to avoid falling victim to bad actors, like not putting money toward a property you haven’t seen or wiring funds to strangers or filling out applications unless you’ve met with the property manager. You can also look into online reviews and testimonials from past homeowners and confirm the identity of the landlord by researching public records.

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Serah Louis is a reporter with Moneywise.com. She enjoys tackling topical personal finance issues for young people and women and covering the latest in financial news.

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