GRAFTON (WITI) -- Grafton police say they are investigating a rental property scam in which criminals are able to obtain sensitive personal information from people believing they are providing the information necessary to hold a property.
Grafton police say this is how it works:
Criminals pose as owners of rental properties -- using real estate listings of homes from legitimate websites to place ads on Craigslist and Zillow.com offering the homes for rent. When a prospective renter contacts the criminal inquiring about the property, the criminal will provide a renter's application by email and request the prospective renter fill it out.
The application requires the prospective renter to provide personal information to include their social security number, date of birth, driver's license number and financial history. In some cases, the criminal will require a down payment to hold the property.
Police say the true owners of the properties aren't aware that their home has been listed for rent on the unauthorized websites until the prospective renter makes personal contact with them, requesting an inspection or a house key.
Police are offering these tips for consumers when looking for rental properties online or off-line:
Grafton police say a legitimate real estate agent or landlord should never ask for personal information, such as a date of birth or social security number, or a phone verification code prior to seeing a property.
"We would never ask for personal information over the phone -- especially a social security number," Andrew Kaplan with Grafton Townhomes said.
Kaplan says personal information is usually collected in person, during a second meeting.
Police say this scam has happened twice in Grafton -- once last year, and once just recently.
"How we found out about this last one is the person that entered in a conversation with the criminal was suspicious of it," David Wenzler with the Grafton Police Department said.
If you are selling or buying goods on the internet, any requests for bank account numbers, social security numbers, or being asked to provide them with a code sent to your cell phone via text or call, are all red flags that the dealings maybe a potential scam.
If you find a fraudulent listing on Zillow, you're asked to report it by clicking "Report Listing" and then "Listing seems to be fraudulent or illegal" on the listing page in question.
On the Craigslist website, click on “Avoid scams and frauds” and follow the listings of websites to report scams in the United States and Canada.
"Those sites are free, and people can post kind of anonymously. There are many risks with that," Andrew Kaplan with Grafton Townhomes said.
Police say other ways to check for legitimacy when looking to rent a home is to ask for interior pictures of the property, check for signs around the property and talk with neighbors or current tenants about the property.
While this may seem like a lot of work -- it's less work and money than trying to clear your name once your identity is stolen.
If you have concerns about this scam, you're asked to contact your local police department, and/or the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC's toll-free hotline number is: 877-FTC-HELP.