Don’t Get Burned by Rental Listing Scammers

The real estate market in California is hot and some people searching for apartments and home rentals are getting burned by purchasing useless rental listings.

Crooks are ready to take advantage of the unwary by selling listings of rentals that either aren’t available, don’t exist or are in foreclosure.

The California Bureau of Real Estate (CalBRE) warns consumers not to become a victim of such scams, which are most prevalent in areas where affordable rental housing is difficult to find.

A prepaid rental listing service is a business that supplies people with lists of residential properties for rent. The prospective tenants are required to pay a fee in advance or at the time the listing is provided. This business requires a prepaid rental listing service (PRLS) license from the Bureau of Real Estate or the person running the business must be licensed with the bureau as a real estate broker.

Wayne Bell, Real Estate Commissioner and CalBRE chief officer, says that consumers must be careful when using PRLS companies and offers this information to help you avoid problems.

Red Flags

  • The PRLS company only accepts cash (because credit cards allow for disputing charges).
  • The PRLS company guarantees the prospective tenant will get a rental in his or her price range, as well as a desired location, along with other positive options (such as allowing pets).
  • The list of rentals is handwritten and not computer generated.
  • The company does not provide property management or owner contact information for a prospective renter to schedule an appointment to visit the property.
  • The company asks the consumer to contact them instead of the property manager or owner if there is an interest. Typically, a PRLS company will provide you rental property addresses and property manager or owner information so that direct contact can be made by the client.
  • Company representatives use only first names. Note: Last names may be omitted and first names are often changed to avoid detection by law enforcement or to keep from being sued.
  • The company has only been in business for a brief period of time. Some PRLS companies open, quickly close, and move around a lot to avoid customers seeking refunds.

Avoid Being a Victim

  • Check the real estate and/or PRLS license HERE. And please note that there are very few PRLS licensees statewide. The list of such licensees can be viewed HERE.  Companies operating lawfully under a PRLS license must maintain a $10,000 bond or cash deposit.  Scammers will just take your money and there is no recourse.
  • If the PRLS company is not licensed, consumers should not use that company and should report the company to CalBRE.
  • If licensed, also check the PRLS with the local Better Business Bureau.
  • Do a Google, Yahoo or Yelp search on the Internet to see what others say about the company.

Read Your Contract with the PRLS Company

Protect yourself by reading your contract carefully. Before any PRLS company accepts a fee for rental listings it must provide a contract stating the amount of the fee and specify what services will be performed in exchange for the fee.

  • The contract must include a description of the kind of rental unit the consumer wants to find.
  • Even if the contract is signed electronically, consumers can and should still request a printed copy of the contract. This must be provided within five working days of a request.
  • Consumers need to be sure the contract states exactly what sort of rental listings will be provided. For instance, if a consumer is looking for a specific number of bedrooms, a maximum rent amount or listings in a specific area, this must be written into the contract.
  • The contract must state an expiration date of no more than 90 days from the date it is signed.
  • The PRLS company must also disclose small claims court remedies available to you should any issues arise.
  • If the PRLS company fails to provide the specified features, this is one of several conditions that would form a basis for the customer to receive a refund.
  • Prospective renters using a PRLS must carefully review the refund section of the contract. It is important to understand what rights you have should a refund be requested.

If you feel you have been the victim of a prepaid rental listing service licensee, please file a complaint HERE.  And if you have been victimized by an unlicensed scammer, CalBRE wants to know.  Contact them at 1-877-373-4542.

Sources:

Consumer Fraud Alert and Warning – Prepaid Rental Listing Services (PRLS)

Consumer Alert: Warning Regarding Online Rental Schemes

Get it While it’s Hot: Check out the Summer Issue of Consumer Connection

Summer’s not over yet. There’s still time to take a road trip to one of California’s manyConsumer connection summer 2016 state parks. From beaches and deserts to redwood forests and mountain summits, California parks offer a variety of amazing and beautiful sites to explore. The Consumer Connection article “Time for a Road Trip!” details 10 state parks—including Angel Island, Marshall Gold Discovery, Humboldt Redwoods, and Crystal Cove—to consider for your next destination, and ways to make sure your car is as ready for the trip as you are.

Also inside this issue is an article about the recently enacted California End of Life Option Act. The new law provides legal guidelines on how terminally ill adults can choose to die in a humane and dignified manner.

Readers will also find features about the recent trend of more Americans choosing to rent instead of buying a home, dealing with the repo man, the dangers of DIY braces, wills versus living trusts, the dangers of buying from a rogue online pharmacy, and more.

To download or read DCA’s award-winning Consumer Connection magazine, visit the DCA website. You can also pick up a printed copy in the DCA Headquarters lobby at 1625 North Market Boulevard in Sacramento. Or, to have a copy mailed to you at no charge, call (866) 320-8652 or send an e-mail request to consumerconnection@dca.ca.gov. Get connected!

 

2015 Legislative Update for Real Estate Licensees

CalBRE_Logo_HiRes

The California Bureau of Real Estate has released its 2015 Legislative Update.  The legislative summaries provided are of recently signed bills that affect real estate licensees and subdividers.  Read it here.

The Bureau’s 2016 Real Estate Law book will be available online January 1.  The hard copy, along with accompanying CD, is expected to be available for purchase by early February for $25.  To order, download a Publications Request Form from their website at www.bre.ca.gov.

 

 

Real Estate Fraud Could Rob You of Your Home or Property

Real Estate 1

Do you own a home or property free and clear or have a large amount of equity in it?

If so, you could become a victim of real estate fraud.

In this scheme, criminals fraudulently record a lien against the property or illegally transfer the deed to the property to themselves or a third party. Depending on what county you live in, the fraud may not even be uncovered until the property goes into foreclosure or a property owner attempts to sell or refinance their property.

Unfortunately, elderly homeowners and non-English speakers are often targeted for this type of fraud. With seniors, criminals create a fake Promissory Note showing that the senior owes the crook money and then a fraudulent Deed of Trust is created that secures the Promissory Note. The fraudulent documents may not surface until the senior dies.

Wayne Bell, California Bureau of Real Estate Commissioner, said, “White-collar criminals are using a variety of fraudulent deed schemes to steal properties from their owners in order to re-sell or rent those properties, borrow money against those properties, or obtain lien rights that will be paid off upon the true owners’ death.”

Warning signs of deed fraud

If you receive a mailed notice or become aware of:

  • A recorded document on your property where you never signed the document and your signature was forged;
  • A recorded document on your property where ownership or a portion of ownership in your property was transferred or sold to another party without your knowledge;
  • A recorded document on your property where the signer of the document was deceased at the time of execution of the document;
  • A loan was taken out on your property without your knowledge; and
  • Changes or alterations were made to a recorded document after you signed it.

Or if you:

  • Stop receiving your property tax bill or notices;
  • Receive a Notice of Default or Notice of Trustee’s Sale when you own your home free and clear of a mortgage loan, or when you have a mortgage and you are not late on your loan payments;
  • Receive loan documents in the mail for a loan that was obtained without your knowledge; and/or
  • Receive real estate documents in the mail for a transaction on your property that you didn’t know about.

What to do if you become a victim

You must act immediately.

  • Gather and collect all of the information, documents and other evidence you have.
  • Contact the police, sheriff’s department or law enforcement agency where the property is located.
  • Contact the City and District Attorney’s Office where your home/property is located.
  • Contact the office of the recorder in the county where your property is located.
  • Contact your local city or county department of consumer affairs.
  • Contact your title insurance company. A title insurance policy may have been purchased on your property when you first bought your property and you may have insurance against forged deeds. A title policy with forgery protection may be able to help you get the fraudulent deed removed from the record via civil litigation and/or to cover certain costs up to the policy’s coverage limits.
  • Contact the California Secretary of State, Notary Public Section at (916) 653-3595 or sos.ca.gov/business/notary/.
  • Contact the California Bureau of Real Estate at bre.ca.gov if a real estate broker or salesperson, or unlicensed person purporting to be a real estate licensee, is involved in the forging of any deed or fraudulent recording of a false, fictitious, or forged deed. The Bureau has a Consumer Recovery Fund that may be able to compensate you (up to statutory limits) if you meet certain requirements.

How do you fix it?

Because of the “cloud” on your home title created by fraud, an action in court must be started to “quiet” title to the property. That is the legal term which refers to cleaning, cleansing or clearing the title to the property’s official records by invalidating the forged, fraudulent and improperly recorded deeds and documents.

Sometimes a city attorney or district attorney may be able to obtain a court order quieting the title in connection with a criminal prosecution of the criminals or fraudsters for forgery, grand theft and other criminal counts.

If that is not a possibility, you should contact, meet with and hire a knowledgeable California attorney to bring a quiet title action. If you cannot afford a civil litigation attorney, you should call the State Bar of California or a local county bar association and ask for a referral to a public interest law firm.

The important thing is for you to act immediately to protect your ownership rights.

Deed fraud can scam you out of your home or property, so stay informed about the status of your property title and records. Property owners should periodically check title to their property, the same way they check their credit report. Also, if you are purchasing a property, ask the title company about protections and risks covered under their policy.

This post was based on a California Bureau of Real Estate (CalBRE) alert titled “Consumer Alert: What Should You Do If You Learn that a Forged and/or Fraudulent Deed Has Been Recorded Against Your Real Property” written by Commissioner Bell and attorney Summer Bakotich. To view the document, click here.

 

 

CalBRE: Sales Materials Can’t Imply Agent Is Independent of Broker

CalBRE_Logo_HiRes_small

The California Bureau of Real Estate (CalBRE) issued an advisory informing licensees that sales materials cannot contain terms that imply the existence of a real estate entity independent of a licensed broker and that sales agents owning a fictitious business name or “team name” must include both a team member license number and broker license number on all sales materials. Sales materials include “for sale” signs and print and electronic media.

Click here to see the advisory.