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ILS providers supply a valuable service by providing a low-cost marketing platform to quickly and easily accumulate your listing information and disseminate that information to a wider audience. In the January 2013 Residential Resource, we discussed ILS (Internet Listing Service) providers. As valuable as that service may be, it does come with a few drawbacks. One problem that has recently become an epidemic is having your property listing highjacked.
We’ve all heard stories about someone who has been duped by a false listing of a rental unit. The perpetrator replicates the online listings by replacing the contact information with that of the impostor. Unsuspecting potential renters have a difficult time telling that the listing is a fake. The most popular website for this scheme is Craigslist. The prospective renter remits their initial rent payment and deposits, only to find later that the so-called property management company is actually an unknown third-party who may live halfway across the world. This situation can cause a problem for you if the victim argues that they paid your agent and then demands occupancy of the property. The problem can be even worse if the victim gains access and occupies the property. Now you have an eviction dilemma.
ILS providers are still fairly new to the marketplace and with every addition there is a learning curve for the providers. A few of us discussed this problem at the last NARPM® annual convention and synthesized the fol-lowing approach.
All listings (both the abbreviated and detailed) use a universal symbol and color classification system to identify the reliability of the source of the data. Three categories are suggested:
We have submitted this proposed standard to the ILS providers identified in last month’s article and hope to obtain agreement on a common solution to this security problem. A unified effort of this type will raise the quality and trustworthiness of the participating ILS providers and enable us to educate the users together. Perhaps a seal could be designed for display on con-forming websites that indicates that the ILS provider is in compliance with this standard similar in concept to the UL or Good Housekeeping symbols.
Although you do not have control of security standards implemented into ILS provider sites, there are some actions you can take on your own to protect your listings. Many of these are similar to how an artist or photographer may protect their images. As many artists and photographers have learned the hard way, protecting yourself before a theft occurs will save youlots of hassle.
Watermarking your photographs is a fairly simple process and doesn’t require expensive photo-editing software or a degree in design. There are many free online sites such as picmarkr.com, watermarktool.com and watermarquee.com that work as simple as uploading the images you’d like to watermark, selecting what you’d like your watermark to be (i.e. your logo, your company name, etc.) and what type of file you’d like to export the watermark to be.
If you’d rather have a program that does the watermarking for you there are plenty of off-line applications that easily provide watermarking services such as WatermarQue, Impression or JetPhoto Studio. These can be as simple as dragging and dropping the image into the program, selecting the watermark you’d like to use and the type of file you’d like the output to be.
Be careful about what you include in the watermark that you choose and where it is placed on the image. You want the watermark in a location so that the criminal cannot crop it out of the picture. We recommend you consider having your phone number or website address in the watermark to prevent the criminal from simply representing himself as your company and the
watermark giving the prospect a false sense of security.
As technology advances there have been new developments that make searching for an image simple and free.
For a one-time search of a single image, Google Image Search allows you to upload your photo and will show you any instances in which they find a visually similar image. This solution requires more tedious work on the user’s behalf but is a viable option.
A service called TinEye allows you not only to search for your image but also for instances in which your image may have been cropped or altered rather than just as you initially used the image.
Another service, called PicScout, is the most advanced. It allows you to upload your image to their exchange service which tracks when the images are used, how they are used and then sends you an alert as your photos are found.
If you’ve taken all of the precautions you can, and during your regular image search, you find that someone has created an unauthorized listing of your property, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and fight back against the highjackers.
The first step is to contact the ILS service on which you find the listing. Most have a “Report Fraud” or “Report Unauthorized Listing.” This will give the ILS provider the opportunity to remove the listing for you. Be aware that this process may take a little bit of extra time and effort on your behalf as they will have to ensure that you are, in fact, the legitimate agent of the property owner before they can remove the listing.
The next step is to contact your local law enforcement authorities to make them aware of the fraudulent activity. You can report the listing by calling the nonemergency line and explaining the situation. The law enforcement agency will provide further instructions for you to follow.
Finally, you will want to contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at 877.FTC.HELP and the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.
With every advance in technology, there are often accompanying adverse consequences. This “arms race” requires us to be knowledgeable and proficient in the use of the best offensive and defensive tools.
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