How to Detect Facebook Housing Scams
Updated: Sep 24, 2020
Facebook has neglected fake profiles, putting thousands of us at risk while searching for housing. Many people are reporting the problem to Facebook, but Facebook has closed their ears 🙉. Facebook has a responsibility to protect its community and is letting us down. Please follow along and inform yourself of the characteristics of fake profiles, scammers, and general social miscreants. 🚀
Facebook scams have a different flavor than Craigslist. Since scammers need to have real Facebook profiles, they can be easier to detect if you look. However, because it feels like a real person, these profiles can be easier to trust. Your trust is one of your most valuable assets. Always keep it on guard. You always have to look carefully at the person you're talking to.
Here are a few characteristics of the scammer profiles. Many profiles have multiple red flags. Thankfully this makes it a little easier on you, but don't ever get complacent. Let's go!
The URL Doesn't Match The Name.
Look at the name of the user ("Kenny Anderson") and the name of his URL ("parmenas.istifanus.7"). Kenny is actually a scammer based in Nigeria and has been unable to change his URL. This a huge red flag and is the most obvious signal. Surprisingly, this happens a lot.
Parmenas is also using a brand ComfortHomeUS to seem more legitimate. It has been active since 2015, but if you click the site, it doesn't even work! (here). You have to be careful to trust these websites that serve as fronts.
Here is another example. User "Chloe Walker" has the URL "Obrown.Ishmael." This person is not named Chloe Walker.
Likes and Other Activity Don't Match the Profile.
Look at who likes the user's picture. Scammers want to show likes but struggle to get high quality ones. As a result, many of their likes are either other scammers, or other people 'overseas.' If real people are liking the profile, it serves as a blanket of trust. If the scammer is a real person, executing a scam runs a large risk of alienating his or her existing social circles.
If the user has no likes or comments, doesn't allow likes to be visible, or only has a few people liking their pics and posts, this is a warning sign. It might be useful to investigate the friends you do find on the profile. If those friends have red flags, be twice warned!
All 4 of these Likes go back to Nigeria. Surprisingly, folks in Nigeria account for a lot of the scam activity on Facebook and Craigslist.
User is in Many, Many Groups.
A large indicator for scammers is to look for people that join housing groups in any major US city. The only rhyme or reason for this is to hunt for victims. Surprisingly, there are thousands of profiles like these in the traditional housing groups. In the Boston group, Housing Rocket has rejected over 1,000 profiles that seem like frauds. Only diligent group admins can monitor this problem, but many group admins let everyone in.
Profile Picture is Blurry or Altered.
In order to get approved and images uploaded past Facebook's image recognition software, fake profiles alter the original images by adding blurs, discolorings, or similar effects. This creates the appearance of a unique identity to Facebook's software. These two pictures don't look like real profiles.
The Profile Has Lots of Stock Images.
High quality profiles pictures need to be real and authentic. Scammers tend to use stock profiles, as shown below. I was excited about 2020, but I never thought about making it my cover photo, as well as as the only thing on my profile. The left image was an obvious stock in the context of the rest of 'her' profile. Similarly, users with no profile pictures should be avoided.
User Has No History, or Very Recent Updates.
Watch out for recent updates, or a limited selection of posts from the the user. Most of the scammers we encounter upload all of their information on the same day. New profiles are also much more likely to be fraudulent, as it is difficult to keep the scam running for over a year.
No Friends, Suspicious Friends, or 5,000 Friends...
It is important to see and understand the person's real social graph. There are often networks of fake profiles, so you really have to go deep into the profile and the friends of the user. If anything from your research seems off, it's a good idea to look for another listing elsewhere.
User is a Locked Profile.
Locked profiles are a feature in Southeast Asia to help users protect their identities. Locked profiles don't exist in the US, and certainly not in Los Angeles (shown below). This one also seems to have his/her pronouns wrong, but we'll try to not judge. It's been common for male scammers to try to impersonate females.
User Wants to Get Off Platform to Chat.
There is no need to leave Facebook to message about housing. Facebook allows for full communication abilities, including images, video, and voice. Scammers like to get off platform in case their profiles are found and removed after they have started talking to you.
Other Warning Signs to Detecting Scams.
The listing is too good to be true! A post might have a unit that is several hundred dollars under even the cheap market price. Scammers are playing a different game. The more people they can draw in, the better
Asking for Paypal, Venmo, CashApp, TransferWise, Western Union, or MoneyGram
Weird story about the unit's availability. Owner out of town? Suspicious. "Lots of demand", so you need to pay money? Don't.
You can ask: who was last tenant?
Pictures of the building don't match location
Weird Jobs. "Facebook App" is the most common 'odd job'
One Last Tip: Join the Housing Rocket Groups and check out Profile Checker.
Facebook Groups. You can see a full list of the groups here. We have blocked thousands of known scammers that are trying to proliferate across Facebook Housing groups.
Profile Checker is a free service to help you detect potential scammers and ensure listings are accurate. Enter a link to the Profile's Facebook page, upload any relevant screenshots, and we'll get back to you as soon as possible with a second pair of eyes. 👀
This is the first post in our information series about Facebook scams. Our second post is about How To Avoid Getting Scammed.