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Fraudulent Zillow listings continue string of real estate scams in Wasatch Back

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This lot located at 3435 Sun Ridge Dr. in Park City was removed from Zillow Tuesday after it was found to be a fraudulent listing.

The Park City Board of Realtors says multiple property listings on Zillow have been identified as fraud, as owners who aren’t selling are seeing their homes on the website listed as for sale by owner.

The board of realtors flagged seven properties in Park City, Heber, and Midway for fraud, and the Summit County Sheriff’s Office is currently investigating the matter.

Every fraudulent listing is vacant land and was listed on the real estate marketplace website Zillow.

Those have all been removed from Zillow as of Tuesday afternoon. Two listings, both in Park City limits, were listed as for sale Tuesday morning, but were removed from the site later in the day after KPCW contacted the company.

The fake listings follow two other similar incidents earlier in November.

Park City Board of Realtors CEO Jamie Johnson said the scams involved people attempting to sell property they do not own.

“The way that they were going about that is they were posting the property as for sale “by owner,”" she said.

None of the bogus listings were recorded on the board of realtors multiple listing service, or MLS. Johnson said in some of the cases, fraud was clear after looking at county tax records to see what name was on the property’s title.

“We’ve also had consumers that have reached out directly to us here at the association, and said ‘hey I was randomly online looking at property and put in my own address, and it came up that it was for sale, and we have not listed our property for sale.’” 

Johnson said vacant land is more susceptible to scammers, as prices are generally lower, which in turn appeals to all-cash buyers.

“There’s not necessarily a sign in the yard,” she said. “You’re not having to meet an individual out to look at the property. So someone could say that they’re trying to sell the property, and you would never meet them in person, because it’s a piece of land. It’s something that can be looked at without having to be let into.”

Johnson recommended fraud guard, which is a tool available through the Summit County Recorder’s Office. By recording a name with the county, it can give people an early warning if fraud is being committed in their name.

“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," a Zillow spokesperson said in a written statement to KPCW.

"Our teams monitor activity on the site in a number of 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.”

Real estate fraud isn’t just a problem in the Wasatch Back. News reports around the country highlight rental scams in Eagle County, Colorado and other scammers on Zillow, including an over $1 million home in Raleigh, North Carolina that was listed for sale at $17,000.

Separately, researchers at the University of Washington recently found that virtual 3D tours on sites such as Zillow and Redfin could expose homeowners’ privacy.

They found that the pictures in the tours could include personal items such as a college diploma or letter — which could contain sensitive information and lead to a variety of threats including phishing attacks or credit card fraud.

Parker Malatesta covers Park City for KPCW. Before coming to NPR, he spent one year as a general assignment reporter for TownLift in Park City. He previously was the news editor at The News Record, the student paper at the University of Cincinnati. He loves running, reading, and urban planning.