St. Louis, Mo., Jan. 23, 2013 – The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning real estate agents and the public about a new Internet scam that asks agents to pay $99 to remove their names from a phony complaint website.
Real estate agents say this website asked them for money to remove complaints.
The website, www.realtor-complaints.com, was registered Jan. 1 and lists no contact person or office location. In the past two weeks, dozens of agents in the St. Louis, Chicago and Minneapolis areas have received emails directing them to negative consumer reviews on the site. The site then tells them that they can pay $49 to respond to a specific complaint or $99 to have their names and complaints permanently removed from the site.
Earlier this month, 44 St. Louis area agents with Coldwell Banker Gundaker received email notices claiming they were the target of consumer complaints. In each case, the agents were directed to www.realtor-complaints.com and offered the option to either respond to the complaints or have their names removed.
Bill Raines, information systems director with Coldwell Banker Gundaker in St. Louis, said that many of the complaints were virtually identical, with only the name of the consumer changed. He said that once the scam was discovered, the company put a block on similar emails.
Raines said he has heard the scam also hit Coldwell Banker offices in Chicago and Minneapolis.
Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said the website and emails are clear attempts to scare sales agents into paying to get fake complaints taken off the website.
“This is nothing more than an old-fashioned shakedown,” she said.
Corey said that any complaint website that offers to remove criticism for a fee is probably a scam. “The people running these types of operations appear to be involved in a blackmail racket, plain and simple. Don’t be coerced into paying them one penny.”
The BBB first learned about the scam when a Coldwell Banker Gundaker agent from Chesterfield contacted the BBB. “The website lists a complaint from a person I have never heard from; the complaint is unfounded,” she said. She said the phony information “has the potential to slander my reputation.”
The website calls itself “The #1 Real Estate Agent Complaint Forum” and claims to be “trusted by more than 3 million visitors each month.” But those claims and others on the site appear to be bogus.
The site lists thousands of real estate agents across the nation, grouped by state. Many agents are listed with low grades and complaints from consumers.
A typical complaint against an agent in St. Charles, Mo., reads, “Do you wish to sell your residence? Do not use (agent’s name). Poor correspondence along with no sales experience is precisely what you’re going to get for your precious time and energy.” The site gives the agent an “F” overall grade.
An almost identical complaint is recorded against an agent in Farmington, Mo. She, too, has an “F” grade on the site.
If you have concerns that a website may be a scam, contact your state’s attorney general, the Federal Trade Commission or the BBB.
The St. Louis BBB office can be reached at 314-645-3300 or www.bbb.org. For information on scams, go to www.bbb.org/scamstopper.
Contacts (News Media Only): Michelle Corey, President & CEO, 314-645-0606, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Chris Thetford, Vice President-Communications, 314-584-6743, email@example.com, or Bill Smith, Trade Practice Investigator, 314-584-6727, firstname.lastname@example.org