5 Common Targets for Fake Listings Scams
By A.K. Carroll /
16 Aug 2016
Last spring I was looking for an apartment online and landed on what sounded like the perfect place — a fully furnished condo in a Bay Area suburb that needed to be sublet as soon as possible. According to the post, there was an in-unit washer and dryer, gas stove, spacious living room, and fireplace. It was the second property of the owner, who was heading home for a year (maybe more) and was willing to contract month-to-month. It seemed too good to be true.
And it was. A week into my investigation — after I’d driven by the address, corresponded through email, and pulled together references — I was asked for a down payment, sight unseen. Though I was quick enough to catch it (having heard of similar fake listings scams), that isn’t always the case. Within a community of trust, it’s only too easy to get duped.
When online marketplaces and communities are used as they were intended, every new listing, profile, message, and campaign is an opportunity for personal connection and business growth. Unfortunately, they can also be an opportunity for content abuse and fraud. Any website that permits signups and allows user-generated content is vulnerable to bullies and bad actors who post phony listings in order to phish for consumer data or scam legitimate users.
Many online businesses rely on fostering a community of trust. Fraudulent listings not only disrupt the community, they also threaten the integrity of the site and the reputation of the brand.
Here are 5 common targets for fake content scams:
Nowadays, there are plenty of ways to reserve a space to sleep for the weekend. There are many vacation rental websites that provide social marketplaces where travelers can browse and book the properties of local hosts — and their fraudulent counterparts. Fraudsters in this field post professional pictures of properties they don’t own and then coerce guests into making deposits off-site or sharing valuable personal information before they realize the risk. Once a customer has had a bad experience — and potentially a ruined vacation — the chances of making amends or getting them to return are slim.
Online classifieds are the first place to go when you’re buying a used vehicle, hunting for an antique armoire, or looking to get rid of that couch you acquired in college. Consumers believe that when they see something for sale, they’ll actually be able to buy it. And they will – unless there’s a fraudster on the other end. Not only do malicious users make it distressingly difficult for legitimate buyers to verify actual listings, they also hijack existing accounts and then use them to run scams, complicating and upsetting the entire community. It can be a challenge for online businesses to eliminate fraud and block bad users while also attempting to provide easy entrance for well-meaning newcomers.
With the ability to access hundreds of profiles at the swipe of a finger, it’s never been easier to find Mr. or Ms. Right. It’s also never been easier for fraudsters to pose as someone they aren’t or to create online profiles solely for the purpose of catfishing and manipulating others. Matters of the heart are complicated and risky enough without having to worry whether or not James G. really lives in San Mateo and works for a tech startup. Bad actors not only damage a user’s sense of safety, but can also cause real emotional trauma.
Applying for a job is no small task. After spending hours scouring a post, re-writing a resume, and perfecting a cover letter, the last thing an applicant wants is to discover that her dream job was never real in the first place. By posting fake job listings, scammers can gain a wealth of personal information from unsuspecting applicants. They may even ask for credit card information in order to process an application fee — a further investment on the part of the victim and a false step that can take months to set straight.
A cross-cultural coffee shop that will fund the resettlement of refugees, an alternative magazine dedicated to local artists, a five-page book of puzzles set to protect the works of Da Vinci — these are of sort of projects that we want to share with friends and potential funders. But how do newcomers know that the Codex Silenda is more than a concept? Or that the money they pledge toward medical recovery isn’t being spent on a Tesla? Crowdfunding platforms rely on the curiosity, compassion, and benevolence of strangers who are willing to back a project or support a cause, but one fraudulent profile can be enough to damage the trust of a funder and the image of the brand. Deciding to become a backer is a big enough step on its own. Funders shouldn’t also need to investigate the projects they support.
Combatting fake listings
So how does an online business foster a community of trust without keeping out the very people they want to invite to the table? Manual review is practical when there are only a handful of profiles or listings to evaluate each day, but case-by-case evaluation for fake listings is difficult to scale once a company starts to grow. The more users they accrue, the easier it is for scammers to slip through the cracks.
Many online marketplaces and communities find that in order to block fake content, they need to supplement their fraud prevention with a dedicated third-party tool to help catch bad actors before they strike. Companies like Indeed.com (job postings), Travelmob (vacation listings), and KSL (classifieds) rely on Sift Science’s Content Abuse Prevention to stop fake postings from driving off good users and polluting their communities.
Amanda is a lover of words, wisdom, tiny spoons, and crossword puzzles who writes about IoT, culture, connection, and San Francisco. A freelance writer with an MFA in creative non-fiction, she is fascinated by people, and driven by a desire to understand what is and uncover what could be.