Police warn about scammers using Zillow

Investigators in Hall County are investigating multiple reports of potential scammers who are trying to deceive home buyers and renters on popular real estate websites, including Zillow.

Gainesville police posted a warning on Facebook last week, alerting potential homebuyers and renters about scammers who are taking actual listings and putting them under fake names.

“They are cloning different and multiple listings on every different website,” said Lt. Andy Smith, Gainesville Police Department.

Lt. Smith told FOX 5 News, they have had at least two reports where individuals were duped while looking for a property to buy or rent in the Gainesville area. Investigators said the sites are usually of a legitimate listing but the price and/or contact information have been altered. So, potential renters or buyers will end up calling the scammer instead of the actual owner or listing agent. Investigators said some have lost money, while others have given out their personal information by filling out a credit application.

That’s exactly what happened to Brandy Nestell and her husband. They have been looking for a place to rent for the last four months. They were sent a list of homes from who they thought was a representative from Zillow. But she quickly realized something was not quite right.

“The red flags that came up were when he kept asking about money and when he would give me the code to the key pad to the house,” said Nestell.

They never sent him money but they did fill out a credit application which included a lot of their personal information. And when she confirmed that the alleged representative did not work for Zillow, she’s said he denied the whole thing.

Investigators said it’s a scam that could potentially fool almost anyone, if you are not careful. The best way to protect yourself is to go the extra mile to verify even the sites you think are safe.

“First Contact the real estate company, said Lt. Smith. “Once you’ve contacted the company, get them to come out to show you the property and have a face to face meeting with them.”

Zillow sent FOX 5 Atlanta the following statement Wednesday:

"Zillow goes to great lengths to police activity and fully inform our users of the existence of scams and how to protect themselves. Our customer support team monitors activity on the site in a number of different ways and if a listing is found to be fraudulent, it is immediately removed from Zillow. Zillow has a ‘Beware of scams and other internet fraud’ page on the site, telling users to look out for red flags like requests for wire transfers and long-distance inquiries, and other valuable information about how to avoid fraudulent listings.

"Additionally, we will never cold call customers prompting them to share sensitive information. If a customer receives a suspicious phone call or email that appears to be us, they should avoid downloading any attachments, clicking on links, or giving personal information and report it to us so our team can review and take appropriate actions to help protect them."