“PROPERTY MANAGERS WINNING THE BATTLE AGAINST ONLINE SCAMMERS”

It’s unfortunate that our Nation’s failing economy, and increasing unemployment rates have gotten to this point, but it’s too late to avoid it now. Online scams are quickly becoming one of the most popular ways for crooks to anonymously make a quick buck.

About a month or two after a tenant moved into one of our more upscale premium rental homes, we received a disturbing telephone call to our office. One of our brand new tenants calling, on the verge of tears, letting us know that someone actually showed up at her front door inquiring about the rental with printed advertisement from craigslist for her $1900 a month rental listed for rent for only $1200 a month, with actual photos of the inside of her home. Of course she panicked and called us thinking we were trying to replace them, or get them out of the home for some reason. Of course, this was not the case at all. The truth is we were all witnessing a trending scam unfolding. Fortunately, I’ve found a simple way to combat these scammers.

I was actually lucky enough to engage in a long e-mail conversation with professional scammer mentioned above. I tracked down his false ad, and simply replied to it inquiring via e-mail from my own false e-mail address. This was a professional scammer. They were literate, convincing, and a good speller compared to most other scammers I’ve encountered. They were very friendly, flexible, and easy to work with. We managed to (on two separate accounts regarding the same property) negotiate acceptable lease terms, a move in date, and even a reduced security deposit. All I had left to do was send him a cashier’s check for security deposit, and he would send me the keys for my new rental home- at a steal!

Here’s what the scammers are intending. They find an online ad for a nice looking rental home. They copy the pictures of the home right off the ad, and then re-list it for a drastically reduced price using their temporary e-mail address. “Beautiful Custom 5 Bedroom Cherry Creek Home, 3400 square feet with a 3.5 Car Garage, Yours for only $1200 a Month!” They even use our cleverly thought out written description, and conclude their ad with “reply to ScottSmith2000@aol.com” The ad looks legitimate, has nice professional looking pictures of the home, and is offered at a price that’s impossible for a home-seeker to pass up. In some cases, there is even still a For Rent sign in the yard when the unsuspecting victims drive by the home. What the scammers are hoping is that renters will find the deal too good to pass up, and immediately send thousands of dollars to another country where they can’t be traced, without ever meeting in person or seeing the home. Then, they disappear; close the e-mail address, and start working another.

You may think people are too smart to fall for it, but if that was the case, it wouldn’t be happening. All it takes is one, and the scammers get their ‘paycheck’ for the week. We have even experienced multiple instances when a victim calls us on “move in day” after sending one of these scammers their “security deposit”, wondering how they can get their keys from us, since our sign and phone number were in the yard. Unfortunately, it’s too late for them. IT HAPPENS EVERY DAY, AND IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU.

O.K. So, how do we combat these scammers, you ask? It’s quite simple. It would be rather difficult to list a home for rent, and get someone to send you great amounts of money without them ever having seen even a picture of the home. If only we could protect our pictures within our ads from being copied to be used by these crooks. If he is looking for legitimate ads to scam, he will quickly pass up any ads where he can’t use the pictures, and move on to the next. Now, there are ways of restricting copy/paste/save options of your online images, but there are many easy workarounds for such defense tactics. Here is what I have found stops these types of scammers dead in their tracks… watermarks! By simply watermarking a company logo or website address right over your pictures before they go online, the scammers won’t even touch them. What are they going to do with pictures that have “TBRHomes.com” stamped right on top? They can’t be removed by any means I know of, rendering pictures of the property useless to anyone trying to scam people. There are plenty of fish, so they will just pass it up, and find another.

Here is an example:

Watermarked images stop craigslist scammers  

 

The benefits of this defense tactic keep on coming too. It also helps to drive traffic to your own website. How many people do you suppose are looking at your properties’ ads online every week, and don’t find all of the information they are looking for and just pass it up? All it takes is a simple mouse click. This way, people know exactly who the image and the property belong to, and exactly where to go for more pictures or information, or even where to go to see other homes you have for rent. After our company started watermarking our property pictures, we instantly saw a drastic increase in our website’s traffic, in addition the halt on scams using our properties.

It also builds strong visual brand recognition. People know when they’re looking at a True Blue Realty listing. That silly little blue ball gets engraved in their minds, and they will unknowingly associate that particular ad, or property, or area, or agent with the TBRHomes.com logo and watermark.

Lastly, your ads will suddenly appear extraordinarily professional compared to others. Many people think it’s difficult or costly to watermark images, when in fact it isn’t. Though one or two have complained, nearly all of our property owners are thrilled and honored to see their homes listed online proudly wearing the TBRHomes.com badge. They truly value the extra level of protection from online scams we are able to provide to them and the public. Not to mention the idea that their home is listed with a company with its own “imaging and watermarking” division, gives them extra assurance that they have the best representation available!

Though there are many programs out there that can place your custom watermark on an image, ranging anywhere from free to several hundred bucks, the one I prefer happens to be completely free. It’s called “FastStone Photo Resizer”. You can upload your custom logo or watermark image once, and you’re done. It will even convert your photos in a batch format (meaning a whole folder, or mess of pictures at a time). Although there are more user friendly programs out there, it is the fastest I’ve seen at what it does. It can watermark hundreds of full resolution photos in just minutes. And the fun doesn’t stop there- it also gives you capability to resize your photos (for optimal web performance) and a plethora of other options like rotating, cropping, borders, etc.

In conclusion, it is extremely simple to protect your company, yourself, your property owners, and tenants from online scammers. If everyone knew what you know now, perhaps we can shut the scammers down entirely!

Brian Hooper
Office- (303) 961-7004 x702
Direct- 303-951-4940
Fax- (303) 940-7531
Email- Brian@TBRHomes.com