Real estate scam targets people looking to rent or buy a home

Helena-area Facebook scams
Posted at 6:29 AM, Aug 22, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-22 11:45:57-04

HELENA — The hot housing market in cities across Montana means it can be difficult to find a place to rent or buy. That is why a scam that has been popping up on Helena-area Facebook groups is so concerning.

Scam posts claim to list housing—some to buy, some to rent.

“It’s disheartening,” realtor Macy McCauley said.

McCauley works with Uncommon Ground Real Estate in the Helena area. Buying a home is a big decision, and she said scammers are using the fact that people want to become homeowners.

“That’s what scam artists do, they prey on people who are vulnerable,” McCauley said. “They see that this market is changing so fast and that people are really wanting to get into a home, and they take advantage of them.”

McCauley said scammers sometimes use photos and information from valid real estate listings to make their posts seem more legitimate.

According to Jake Griffith, the supervisor of the Montana Office of Consumer Protection, the goal of these scams is to make money.

“They’re just trying to make a buck, quickly,” Griffith said.

And unfortunately, Griffith said these scams do work.

“We’ve even seen it go as far as people will get a key mailed to them, and obviously it’s not a key to the house,” he said.

Scammers often pressure people to act fast to secure the home they listed.

“With the economy the way it is, a lot of people are feeling stress, but you should never be stressed into buying a home,” McCauley said. “You should never feel like you’re being forced into a decision you’re not comfortable making.”

Scammers also often ask for money to be wired to them. When money is wired, it can be hard—if not impossible—to get the money back.

“Wiring is as good as giving cash,” Griffith said.

MTN looked at some of the profiles posting scam listings on Facebook. Most of the pages have few to no friends or followers, and few posts and photos.

“Most of the time (these scammers) are not local at all, and usually they are out of the country,” Griffith said.

There are red flags to indicate a post is a scam.

First, look at who is posting the listing. Scam pages tend to not be local, nor have any friends or followers.

Second, look at the website on the listing, scammers will sometimes change a letter or two to make a website look legitimate. In the scam postings, MTN saw on Helena-area Facebook groups, some claimed to be offering HUD housing, but the website listed was not a government website—a sign it is a scam.

Finally, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

“If you’re unsure, it’s a good idea to call our office because we can look at that listing for you and give you some advice on whether we think it’s a scam or not,” Griffith said.

If you see a scam, you can report it to the Montana Office of Consumer Protection on their website.