Web scam: Pssst... wanna buy a house?

Web scammers are turning to online property forums to collect personal information about users for later attempts to swindle them out of money.

Web scammers are turning to online property forums to collect personal information about users for later attempts to swindle them out of money, according to a security researcher.

Renters and buyers often post phone numbers, instant messenger nicknames and e-mail addresses on forums along with specific descriptions of the kind of property they're looking for.

This makes it easy for scammers to write proposals that will elicit further information, said Chris Boyd, security research manager for FaceTime Communications, a security vendor.

"They basically treat these Web sites as a gold mine of information," Boyd said.

The scammers then contact the property seeker, offering them a similar property to what they have described, complete with photos, Boyd said. The potential victim is also often asked a range of other personal questions, such as their occupation, marital status and even if they have a pet.

But there's a catch: the scammer usually asks for a deposit before the seeker can see the property. The requested deposit is usually below market price, another way the scammer tries to lure the victim, Boyd said.

The e-mail pitches are similar to so-called 419 scams, which offer some greater reward in exchange for money in advance. A user on one property forum posted part of an e-mail from one scammer illustrating an unsuccessful swindle.

Reading the "header" of such an e-mail, the part of the message documenting its route over the Internet from sender to receiver, to determine who really sent it is one way to spot a scam. It is possible to fake some header information, but other parts can't be changed.

Although the property promised in this message is in the U.K, the e-mail's header reveals that it originated from an IP (Internet protocol) address belonging to Nigerian Telecommunications Ltd. -- a big red flag.

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Jeremy Kirk

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