Defend Your Company Against Self-Show Opportunists
Note: ShowMojo has made this article available because we believe it contains information valuable to all property managers and owners. We recognize there are references to specific ShowMojo features, and we did include these to assist our user base. However, we believe that non-ShowMojo-users reading the article can readily envision how they might take similar actions in their own leasing environments -- to everyone's benefit.
As the prevalence of lockbox-based self-showings increased, it was only a matter of time before unlawful opportunism followed.
Right now, we’re aware of three distinct risks related to self-show listings.
- Individuals using self-show listings as a force-multiplier for Online Listing Scams.
- Thieves targeting vacant homes — simply to get in, grab items such as appliances, and get out.
- Squatters targeting vacant homes — either for a night or for long-term stays.
Self-Show's First Line of Defense
At ShowMojo, we were worried about this sort of thing from day one. That’s why ShowMojo doesn’t openly advertise any listing as a self show. We’ve taken heat for that stance in the past, but we always felt the single biggest danger about lockbox-based showings was the ability for unscrupulous individuals to locate and easily access a website with a plentiful source of lockbox-based (or otherwise vacant) listings.
Only 25 percent of ShowMojo showings are lockbox-based. The other 75 percent of showings involve a showing agent meeting the prospect at the listing.
That’s a big deal. Since thieves, squatters and scammers cannot exploit a self-show listing that cannot be found.
When at Risk, Don’t Advertise Self-Show or See-It-Yourself
This should be especially effective when dealing with thieves and squatters who are simply looking for the next vacant home -- as long as they have not already zeroed in on your specific company and its self-show leasing practice.
ShowMojo’s built in line of defense is something you might not want. You might see real value in advertising self-show listings because of the convenience for the prospect and because some prospects need the self-show concept reiterated again and again in order to catch on and follow the instructions.
But when there’s any sort of illegal activity in your area, this is attention you just don’t want. Those individuals will seek out and target self-show listings. When that happens, fall back to ShowMojo’s built in first line of defense. And do not advertise self-show on listing sites, on your website, or even on a sign.
Instead, leave ShowMojo to explain the whole self-show process to prospects after they schedule a showing.
The Scammer Tactics
Scammers targeting self-show listings start with the generic Online Listing Scam but leverage the self-show lockbox to layer in perceived credibility. We’ve seen the Online Listing Scammer employ one of two tactics:
- The Code Distributor: who builds on the classic Online Listing Scam by obtaining a code to access the listing and then distribute it to the hapless renter.
- The Owner: who claims to be the owner of the property, claims to be firing the property manager, and tells the renter to see the place using the showing system the property manager currently has in place.
What’s important to understand here is that a scammer can quickly switch their tactic. So it makes sense to take the necessary steps to guard against both these tactics at once.
Start with the Standard Steps Against Online Listing Scammers
As detailed in the Defend Your Company Against Online Listing Scammers article:
- Watermark your listings everywhere.
- Post easy-to-read signs with your company name and contact information on the outside of your at-risk properties.
- Find and request removal of the scammer's online posts.
- If you believe the scammer is operating locally, notify your local chapters of NARPM, NAA, etc. to get the word out.
Take Steps Specific to Self-Show Scammers
The good news (or the bad news, if you don't like work) is there are many steps you can take. Here's the list:
- Blacklist the scammers. Look through the recent showings on your ShowMojo Dashboard (or the Detailed Prospect Report) to find a scammer who is pulling access codes and handing them out to tenants. This would be a prospect scheduling the same listing multiple times with the same phone number or email address. Then, on the Showing Qualification Settings page, blacklist the phone numbers and email addresses. Then repeat this process periodically.
- Stake your claim by email. On the Communication Settings page, update the Showing Details email and Showing Follow Up email to clearly state your company is exclusively responsible for leasing the home.
- Stake your claim by text. On the Listings page, for each at risk listing, update the "Custom message after prospect confirms a showing" to state that your company is exclusively responsible for leasing the home.
- Stake your claim in the home. Add signage inside the at-risk homes -- right in the entryway -- stating your company is exclusively responsible for leasing the home. And, of course, include contact information.
- If you are using single-code lockboxes, stop. Switch to Digital Lockboxes (either CodeBox or VaultLOCKs eLockbox). Yes, we know they cost more, and we are sorry about that, but it's just too easy for the scammer to reuse the same single mechanical lockbox code again and again.
- Enable Location Verification to ensure the prospect is at the listing. ShowMojo has added a feature to confirm the prospect's physical presence at the listing at the time of the showing. This setting is available on the Lockbox Settings page -- Showing Access Control and Notification must be enabled to view it.
- Customize your Anti-Fraud Message to further educate your prospects. Also located in the Showing Access Control and Notification section, ShowMojo has provided you a way to communicate to your prospects things like who you and what they should expect during your leasing process, before requesting that they acknowledge reading this message in order to receive an access code. The Anti-Fraud Message and Acknowledgement is automatically added whenever Location Verification is enabled.
- Validate the prospect's identity. If you are not already doing it, make prospects validate their identity by drivers license. It does mean you need to review each drivers license, but fake drivers licenses are more difficult to obtain than stolen credit cards. You can make this change to all your listings at once from the The Security Wizard for Self-Showings. Finally, if you are using it, be sure to disable any Document Auto-Approve Setting.
- Make Identity Verification More Restrictive. On the Showing Qualification Settings in the Identity Verification section, you can add even more security with options to require mobile-only phone numbers, require prospects to submit a document on each showing, and more. These options may inconvenience some prospects, but are very beneficial when you are being targeted by a scammer.
- Don't hand out access codes to anyone over the phone. Make them schedule online, and validate their credit card or drivers license as part of the scheduling process.
- If you use CodeBoxes, don't hand out vendor codes. And we really mean not to anyone. Have your vendors use one-use access codes (the Text-to-Access feature makes this easy). And strongly consider changing the vendor codes on your existing boxes.
- Make the prospect check in at the property at the specific showtime. You can update this setting on the Lockbox Settings page.
Perhaps you don't need to complete every step above to solve your particular issue, but doing it all should deter everyone but the most dedicated scammers.
When They've Already Zeroed in on Your Listings
This is for the really tough cases. This means a thief, squatter or scammer knows your website, knows you self-show vacant listings, and just keeps targeting them. So here's the final three steps:
- Call the police. This is a seriously illegal activity and your company is the victim (among other victims). File police reports and keep filing them.
- Temporarily stop listing your vacancies on your website. Yes, this sounds drastic, but that's where we are at now. And it's not nearly as drastic as you might think. Most renters come from the online listing sites -- not your website.
- Temporarily switch the most at risk listings to in-person showings. This is not also as terrible as it sounds. You're using ShowMojo, which automates your entire leasing process and groups or clusters showtimes to make them efficient. ShowMojo was built first for in person showings. And, remember, 75 percent of ShowMojo-scheduled showings are still in person.