The MLS Rental Scam Going on Now in the Heights

How do you discover that the house you’re renting out has become the focus of a scam? Well, If the scam’s targets show up on your doorstep, that’s one clue. The owners of the Heights home on Rutland St. pictured above found themselves in that situation last night. So this morning one of them sent Swamplot this tale, hoping readers will have some helpful advice to offer:

We recently bought a bigger house in the Heights and listed our current house for rent on the MLS. All went well (had a lease signed with a great tenant in just three days!) until last night. This friendly couple rang the doorbell and told me that they had been texting with the owner of the house for a week about renting it. She told them she was on a mission trip in Washington DC and couldn’t show them the house right away, but that they should come by the house and look in the windows. If they liked what they saw they were to send her a deposit check. I was flummoxed since I am the owner and had signed a lease two weeks earlier with someone else. I had heard about this happening with rentals listed on Craigslist but didn’t think the scammers would take it to this level. They had posted fraudulent listings on several sites, including and They listed it for less rent than the real posting and said we’d take dogs and cats.


So, what should I do? I’m really worried about other people peeping in our windows, or showing up angry because they paid a deposit! My realtor has never heard of this happening but is contacting HAR to see if they have some advice. My understanding is that most of these scammers are Nigerian anyway so it’s not like HPD is going to send forces there. I asked the Constable to keep an extra eye on the house. But the ad on HotPads is still active. I haven’t tried engaging the scammer. My next action will be to ask HotPads to take down the listing. Any other advice?

Photo: HAR

22 Comment

  • I’d call my Nigerian Prince cousin and tell him to keep these scammers in check!

  • We just moved from Houston to Denver and found a bunch of these on Craigslist, hotpads and trulia. (Denver does not have a good site like HAR)

    As a renter, I was very skeptical of anyone who would rent to someone without seeing them, so after chatting up the “Landlord” I discovered the emails were in fact from Nigeria. I wish I could have found a way to let the real owner know. Could you imagine if the actual owner had been on a long vacation, to return to find someone living there?

    Buyer(renter) beware.

  • If you don’t know who they are, why assume they are Nigerian? Could be your next door neighbor.

  • This really steams me. I’m so tired of people doing stuff like this and I hope you’re able to get HotPads to take the ad down. I think I’d hang a sign on the gate saying “PROPERTY NOT FOR LEASE”. Good luck to you!!!

  • I would post an official notice from your Attorney or Realtor on the gate and have it laminated stating that this is private property and that any dealings for rental agreements through HotPads or Craigslist are not valid or recognized by the owner. If they have questions then they can call your attorney or Realtor.

  • Your Realtor should know about this. It is not uncommon. It happens regularly to MLS listings.

    A friend of mine in Meyerland had the same thing happen. It seems they wait until the MLS rental listing status shows pending or leased, which often means the Realtor’s sign is gone from the yard, but the house might still be vacant for 30 days or so until a legit tenant moves in. That’s their window.

    In my friend’s case the scammer went as far as to look up his name on HCAD and get an g-mail email address that made sense. Same song and dance: he was in London on business; below market rent, etc.

    The police, FBI, etc. will not do anything. The scammers are usually not local. The scammers sit at their PC’s all day long an do this over and over and over looking for that one gullible renter who will send a deposit to a complete stranger via Western Union. It’s hard to believe it ever actually works, but I guess if you do it enough times, someone will fall for it.

    The best thing to do is leave the Realtor’s sign in the yard until someone takes occupancy. That should be a giant waving red flag for anyone who shows up to look at the house. If you want to go a bit further, leave a note on the front door saying something along the lines of, “Don’t be a victim of online scams. This house is already leased” or “Don’t be a victim of online scams, the only way to lease this house is to call XYZ at (xxx) xxx-xxxx.

  • Why not put a sign in the yard that says “Regardless of any ad you’ve read this house is not available for lease.”?

  • Happened to a house on my street. The person interested asked me what it was like to live on that street, told me which house she was looking at. I told her it had just been rented by someone and didn’t think they were already moving. When I contacted the homeowner, he found the listing on craigslist and had it removed. That was several years ago, so it’s nothing new.

  • Why not put a sign in the yard that says “Regardless of any ad you’ve read this house is not available for lease.”?

    Maybe that’s what the owner of that empty lot (posted earlier on swamplot) was doing when he put the “Property NOT for sale” sign up.

  • Luis, emails can be routed through/from anywhere. They could still be from a next door neighbor.

  • @Lost_In_Translation, this is a big karmic slap because I’m the one who submitted the “Property Not For Sale” tip and now this is my house! We are going to put out a “Not for Lease” note on our LOCKED gate. We also called the FTC who said that they keep statistics on this kind of thing but don’t actually do anything about it. Since submitting this, I have also found it listed on and asked them to remove it. Does anyone know of other sites I should check?

  • I’m with Bernard. Your realtor should be aware of these goings on.

    Cases like yours come up on the TV news from time to time.

  • Katie P.: to check where your property is listed just google the property address.

  • I saw this reposted on Craig’s List today (May 30)so you might want to get that taken down as well:

  • Katie, instead of searching individual sites, did you try just doing a blanket google search on the address? All these sites are likely to appear in the search results.

  • I would contact the sites when you know they are there. If you don’t receive excellent help from them, I’d bad mouth them in public social media locations.

  • Why waste time contacting a bunch of crappy real estate listing sites? Just put a note on your front door for the next 30 days and be done with it. Problem solved.

  • @elnina and @ryan, I did google the property address. I contacted all the sites that had the fake listing and asked them to take it down. But as @lauren pointed out by linking to the craigslist post, there are some that you can’t find by address.

    @lauren, thanks for the heads up. I left a voicemail for “agent Pennie” and can’t wait to hear all about my house!

  • Exact same thing happens every time I list my garage apartment on the MLS. Someone grabs the info and posts it to craigslist. I’ve always thought these folks are misguided but legitimate Realtors using it as a way to lure apartment seekers who don’t already have their own agent. They see the ad on CL, call the “agent” and she takes them to the property and collects the buyers-side commission. However, it could be more of the scenario that Katie P describes, which is much more malicious.

    Earlier this year, I got a knock on my door from a person who wanted to see the apartment, even though the MLS had been removed a few weeks prior. He was not too pleased to find out the property was long gone. I found the ad on craigslist and called “agent Samantha” to find out more about the property she listed. She was more than just a little flustered and told me that she wasn’t sure what properties her assistant had posted to craigslist. After a few minutes I informed her that the proporty was no longer available and she needed to remove the ad.

  • As a former Nigerian Prince, I take offense to these references.

  • Hey Katie P, I work for KUHF Houston Public Radio and would love to highlight your rental scam issue. Would you be interested in speaking to me? You can contact me at ehowlin @

  • Crowner: “former Prince”? Did you get detroned for criminal activity? HAHAHA! Who cares that you take offense. People have been scammmed by your countrymen and woman for millions of dollars — old people losing their saving from a bunch of dirtbag common thieves! I don’t effing care how offended you are. You should be apologizing on behalf of these scumball scammers!