September 8, 2013

Scam U: Rental Property

A lesson from Scam University, otherwise known as Scam U. School is in session! Today's class is on the rental property scam.

The rental scam is a con scheme gaining popularity these days. While this scam has been around for awhile, increased reports show that people are not paying attention to the warnings. There are various articles on the Internet about this scam, if you don't believe me, Google it, or let me do it for you by clicking
Three different U.S. government agencies spent time warning people about it in hopes an alert public would not fall prey to it. Back in July, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) advised people to exercise caution when dealing with online postings of rental properties after they received multiple reports from victims. (FBI, 2013) The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warn about rental scams on its site. As an educational tool, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) posted on its blog an awareness piece on online rental scams. In case you were thinking this  is strictly a U.S. problem, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission warns about this too at its Scam Watch site. 
Basically, there are two scam variations dealing with rental properties.
Rental Listings.

In this scenario, the owner becomes the victim. It starts simple with scammers contacting owners about a listed rental property. When the two parties reach agreed upon rental price, fraudsters send the owner a check for the deposit. The check is either:
  • written above the required amount, with the scammer asking for the excess returned, or 
  • written for the proper amount, but the scammer backs out of the rental agreement and asks for a refund. 
Since banks typically do not place a hold on the funds, the owner has immediate access to the amount on the check after depositing it.  Owners provide a refund, then later get told the payment check didn't clear, and they are held liable for the amount. In end, the owner is out of money when they were trying to make money off of their rental property. 
Best bet? Ask the bank to place the funds on hold until the check actually clears. If the check is found to be counterfeit, you won't lose money. If the check is legit, the soon-to-be renter will not mind waiting the week or so for processing. If  they pressure you for the money, instruct them to have their bank issue a stop payment on the check.
Vacation Rental/Renter Finding New Digs.
Fraudsters place a fake advertisement for a great vacation rental at really low prices in an online forum, such as Craigslist, or made-up real estate website. Or they're advertising a new rental property on the market with a great location and cheap rent. Scammers either use the hijacked rental ad or phantom rental. The hijacked rental ad uses rental property description and photos from a legitimate real estate site with different contact information. Phantom rentals are made up listings  real homes that are not for rent; or  fake locations with made-up descriptions and pictures.
The ruse tries to obtain advance payment or trick you into filling out a detailed application form that requires personal information the tricksters use to steal your identity. Some scammers will even send keys, a rental agreement, or other indicators of a legitimate transaction for you to learn about the scam only after you get to your "paid-for" vacation hide-away.
Signs of a scam. Below are potential red flags that should make you think twice about the deal you're about to get.
  • Ask you to wire funds to secure the property.
  • Want security deposit or first month's rent before you met or signed a lease.
  • Won't meet you in person or show the property in person. Scammers will give the excuse they're out of country, or other excuses.
  • Uses a third party working on their behalf.  
  • Use of other high pressure tactics to force you to act NOW.
  • Improper use of the English language in correspondence. Nigeria-based or other foreigners perpetuate this scam, so their sentence or word usage will be different than a native English speaker.
Protection Tips.
  • If you can't meet in person, see the inside of the rental, or sign a lease before you pay, keep looking.
  • Do your homework before signing any documents or sending any money. Do an Internet search of the contact information, and listing. If you find the same ad listed under a different name, it may be a sign that it may be a scam. If public records show the property is in default, you may want to rethink going after this deal. You can check out the potential new landlord through, if you're directly dealing with the owner. If you're dealing with a third party, you can verify their real estate license at
  • Do not wire funds or pay with pre-loaded debit cards. This is almost the same as sending cash. It is rare to recover money sent through these methods. Use a credit card, PayPal, or through a reputable vacation rental site with its own payment system. If something goes wrong, you have recourses to recover your money.
  • Never provide your banking information to people or businesses you don't know.
  • Stick to reputable real estate websites and agents that you know and trust.
  • Do not rely only on email correspondence. You'll want to talk to the parties involved, preferably in person. A phone call is slightly better, but there is no guarantee that the person taking the call is not using a disposable cell phone or an Internet-based phone service, such as Vonage. Be leery of foreign accents or long distant area codes. 
Remember the old adage "if it's too good to be true, it probably is," still holds true today. Don't get suckered into a scam in trying to get the best deal, because you may just get the "deal of a lifetime."

Check out our "Verify Spam, Scam, or Hoax" post to discover resources in conducting your own research.
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. Fake rental properties and shared accommodation listings. Scam Watch. Retrieved from 
Bernhardt, S. (2013 September 5). Scammers prey on those looking for good deals online. Better Business Bureau. Retrieved from 
Federal Trade Commission. (2013 May). Rental listing scams. Retrieved from 
Federal Bureau of Investigation (2013 June 12). FBI warns of rental and real estate scams. FBI San Diego Division: Press Release. Retrieved from 
Kirchheimer, S. (2013 May 13). Avoiding vacation rental scams: Online sleuthing and a little common sense are your best protection. AARP. Retrieved from 
Morran, C. (2013 February 27). 5 warning signs that a Craigslist rental listing is probably a scam. Consumerist. Retrieved from 

September 1, 2013

Creating Real Security Awareness: STEP 4

Create a  communication plan for
your awareness campaign.
STEP 4: Create Communication Plan.

This is the fifth installment in our Create Security Awareness series, where we look at the fourth step in  tailoring a security awareness campaign. In this step, we take all the elements from the previous steps and develop the plan of attack: Communication Plan. Basically a communication plan is your road map in getting your message out. Developing  one will help you make the most of your time and resources while reaching your desired outcome.

During this step, the key things you will do is identify your:
- objectives.
- targeted audience.
- key message.
- method.

Here you list what you are trying to achieve. Look back to what you did during step one. What is your goal? Only use one main objective. Other ambitious goals you would like to achieve could be used later for other security awareness campaigns. Some possible security objectives could be:
-Gain leadership support on new security practice.
-Increase awareness of reporting requirements.
-Remind workforce of security policies.
-Increase workforce compliance.
You should go on to describe what success looks like. Try to develop achievable and measurable metrics, which helps you later on in the process.
Select your targeted audience.
Back in step two, we had you research potential audiences that you have to tailor your security program towards. Now you select from that lists of groupings. You could select all of them if you want, but each group has different communication needs and interests. Your message could end up all over the place. For better results, narrow the audience to three to four groupings with similar communication styles and interests. If you cannot decide, ask yourself, who is the main group you ultimately want to influence?

Key Message.
Key messages are the main messages you want your targeted audiences to see or hear. What are you trying to communicate ? What is the main thing you want your audience to take away from your awareness campaign? The messages should tie back to your objectives and engage your targeted audience. You should have an overarching theme with about three to four supporting messages that support your identified objective.

One overarching theme I used for a previous security awareness campaign was "Security is a team effort. Have you done your part?" The supporting messages were individual responsibilities, combined efforts counter our threats, and inaction creates weakness.  The point was to get people to realize that each person plays a role in the security program, and security was not the sole responsibility of the security office. 

This is the last thing you select when creating your communication plan. Here is when we go back to look at the lists of viable communication platforms you researched during step three in the security awareness process. Look at what platforms you could use to effectively engage your targeted audience.

Platforms could include:
- social media.
- posters, brochures, fliers. (Check out our post  Resource: Security posters!)
- digital displays.
- newsletters.
- print media.
- briefings.
- emails.
- news articles.
- case studies.

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