PITTSBURGH — A homeowner in Lawrenceville says she noticed people checking out her house a couple days ago. Then, she got a call from a real estate agent asking about her house that’s for sale. But there’s one big problem, it’s not for sale.
“My mind was racing as far as what is actually going on here,” said Jillian Boldin.
Jillian Boldin started asking questions.
“I asked, ‘where did you find this listing?’” said Boldin. “‘What are you seeing here?’ And she pointed me to Zillow.”
Channel 11 pulled up that listing showing Boldin’s house. It had been up for three days with more than 500 views before Zillow removed it.
“It’s essentially the listing that we saw in 2017,” said Boldin. “And the house is priced at a very similar price point to where it was in 2017. Of course, the area has gone up in value. What it’s posted for is a real steal for the Lawrenceville area but of course, is fictitious.”
Boldin reported it to Zillow. She filed a police report. She also called the real estate agent she used to purchase the house.
“Typically, we see those with rentals,” said Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices real estate agent Joe Pegher. “You list a house. Put the pictures online. And then someone grabs the pictures and pretends that it’s for rent with the idea of getting someone to put a deposit down. I have not seen one for sale like this.”
A number is listed in the Overview section. Pegher says he called it.
“No answer to my phone call,” said Pegher. “I left a message. No response.”
Boldin called the same number, and someone answered.
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“I spoke with someone who was somewhat brief with me and kind of kicked it over to texting,” said Boldin. “So from there I started getting these text messages that were encouraging me to have further conversations via messenger.”
“It sounded like it was an out-of-the-country person trying to entice somebody to give up some personal information or a deposit like they do with rentals.”
Channel 11′s Alyssa Raymond called the number as well. It went to voicemail. She left a message and immediately got a phone call back. The woman on the other end told Alyssa that she would connect her to the owner and wanted to continue through text message as well. The woman also asked Alyssa if she was an attorney or with a real estate agency. When Alyssa told the woman she was with Channel 11, the woman hung up.
“I stopped investigating and left it up to the authorities at that point,” said Boldin. “But what I’ve heard is a lot of these situations do end up seeking a deposit, which lead me to reach out to the community on NextDoor. I just wanted to warn others. Once I learned, I wasn’t the target, I wanted to make sure that the message was out there so that other people that are out there looking to live in the Lawrenceville neighborhood weren’t going to be taken advantage of.”
Howard Hanna Real Estate Services President Dennis Cestra says this scheme has been around for years, but what they are seeing a lot more of right now is people trying to sell vacant land that they don’t own.
The best thing to do is to use local agents and check listings on local websites or least cross reference them.
After going through this experience, Boldin suggests claiming your home on sites like Zillow.
“That way someone can’t pose as you and act like they’re selling your property,” said Boldin. “Beyond that, if you’re looking to purchase a house or rent make sure to do your homework and know that you’re not dealing with someone who’s doing some fraudulent activity.”
In a statement, a Zillow spokesperson said:
“Zillow strives to provide a safe online platform, and we go to great lengths to monitor activity and fully inform our users of the risks of scams on the internet and how to protect themselves. Our teams monitor activity on the site in several different ways, actively screening for possible scams and preventing them from getting posted, and if a listing is found to be fraudulent, it is removed from our site as quickly as possible. Zillow’s ‘Beware of scams and other internet fraud’ page provides valuable information for internet users on how to avoid scams, including looking out for red flags like requests for wire transfers and long-distance inquiries.”
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