"Scraping" Scams Threaten Homeowners' Quiet Enjoyment Rights
Realtor Blamed for Home Ownership Dispute In Apparent Scraping Scam
Police are blaming an unscrupulous realtor for creating a dispute in which a homeowner is trying to evict squatters who did not know they illegally occupied a Fort Washington, Md., house.
A Prince George’s County woman says she and her sister have owned the home on Everhart Place since their mother died. When she showed up at the house recently, she says she found that squatters had moved in.
The Fort Washington dispute appears to be similar to scraping scams that are growing as more renters seek new homes through Internet searches.
Typically, scam artists post listings on craigslist.com using photos from other people's homes without their knowledge or permission. They also ask for deposit money to be wired to them by the renters.
Afterward, renters show up to either move in to a vacant home owned by someone else or are told by the owners the home is not available for them. The scam artists then keep the deposits and any rent money already paid.
The FBI estimates scraping scams cost victims nationwide at least $20 million per year.
In the Fort Washington case, the homeowner called police who confronted the family living in the house. The police left without evicting the residents, saying it was a civil dispute.
The family living in the house said they are renting it from a realtor. They have refused to move or to allow the homeowner to enter the house.
Prince George’s County records show the title belongs to the woman holding the deed.
The realtor says the house was foreclosed on and the deed had not yet been updated. He has stopped returning calls from the news media.
The homeowner has filed a lawsuit to evict the family. Meanwhile, she is unable to reclaim personal property at the house, such as pictures on the wall.
If the homeowner wins the lawsuit, she could get an order of “unlawful detainer,” which would authorize the sheriff’s department to remove the residents as trespassers.
The only legal remedy for the family living in the Fort Washington house appears to be against the real estate agent to whom they are paying rent. Maryland does not recognize squatter’s rights against valid deed holders.