Close to 5.5 million people visit HotPads every month. Most of these visitors are searching for a new home, many are creating their own listings, but a small minority are spamming the site with fraud. In an effort to eliminate this third group of visitors, we have been quietly but aggressively unleashing a full assault on scammers - Sparta style.
Identifying the Scammers:
Here is how a typical scam plays out: the scammer copies a legitimate listing, lowers the price, changes the contact details, and uploads the fake listing through one of the popular online listing sites. Elaborate emails follow, where the scammer tries to convince the housing shopper to wire money in exchange for a prompt transfer of keys. As obvious as this scam scenario sounds, even the most seasoned online housing shoppers sometimes fall for the trick.
These scams are illegal (often investigated by the FBI and local authorities), highly frustrating, and slow down the entire search process. All housing sites are affected and many are taking steps to stop the perpetrators. At HotPads, finding and blocking fraudulent listings is one of our top priorities and requires the attention of almost everyone on the team. We hope that by combining prompt customer support, advanced technology, and clear messaging we can do our part in battling scammers. While we may be one of the cleaner sites out there, we won't be satisfied until all scammers are kicked off HotPads.
Over the last several months, we've been aggressively hunting down fraudulent listings. Here are a few insights into our offensive, code named "Sparta":
- Phone Verification: All listings created on HotPads require phone verification. Since scammers prefer using fake phone numbers, this security measure has obvious benefits. While this may be an extra step in our new listing creation process, it is an important one and is already having noticeable impact. We hope other housing sites will take notice and follow.
- Machine learning: HotPads has an advanced fraud detection system which is constantly scanning millions of listings, taking notice of hundreds of variables associated with known scams, and learning new scam tricks in the process. This allows us to quickly pinpoint suspicious listings and figure out which ones need to be blocked. We're excited about the possibilities of machine learning and are watching the system get smarter every day.
- Promoting Quality Listings: Our map consists of building icons and dot icons. The prominent building icons usually have a more thorough profile, more photos, longer descriptions, and are sometimes from vetted customers. While this is not a guaranteed method of selecting which icons to click, we think you should know which ones tend to be more trusted.
- Clear Messaging: Yellow warning signs appear throughout the site, clearly pointing out typical scam tactics. Whether you see a yellow warning sign or not, always stay alert. Additional information about avoiding fraud can be found here.
- User Reporting: Perhaps the most effective and important tool in our fraud detection arsenal is the user reporting button found in each listing. If you are ever suspicious of a listing, please report it! We go through these reports daily and take action immediately.
As we continue our aggressive fight against online fraud, the best way to avoid scammers is to stay informed, attentive, and never take action that seems suspicious (ex. wiring money, engaging in a transaction before seeing the property in person, etc.). While we aim to stop all the bad guy, chances are some will inevitably slip through. With your help and our evolving fraud detection systems, we hope to make HotPads the safest place to find a place online.