Profile picture for kenneth_kww

Does Zillows have ways to prevent fraud when home is in dispute?

Does Zillows have ways to prevent fraud when home is in dispute?
Our house is owned by myself, my brother and his wife. They are going through a difficult divorce right now. Someone used my brother's email address and claimed the home and changed his email password. Now we are not able to log in to correct the issue. The home is 5039' and has 5 bedrooms. Someone changed the home to 6039' with 6 bedrooms. We have tax record and house blue print to show the correct values.
What process does Zillows offers to fix this issue? Thanks. 
  • January 27 2013 - Auburn
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Answers (20)

Best Answer

Profile picture for Blue Nile
Click on Russ Hatfield's name and use his "contact me" button on his profile page.  He can forward your correspondence to the correct party.

As for internet crime and internet fraud, Zillow's legal department works closely with the FBI and FTC to minimize and address that, but changing a few details on a home details page without advertising to receive revenue... is hardly the kind of fraud and Scams that are frequently attempted on sites like this.

There are only about 500 employees at Zillow for approximately 35 million unique IP site users..., and most of the employees are in "tele-marketing", thus it is not at all unusual to take a week or two to get back to people on the assigned cases.

And if you go to small claims court, or similar civil cases for your "losses", what loss was really experienced by having the owner furnished data different that the county records data?

Zillow doesn't typically share a person's IP address with anyone, except when the FBI needs to be involved, and then only with the FBI.

See Zillow's Privacy Policy.
  • January 28 2013
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Profile picture for Blue Nile
For some information for both on how "easy" and how "hard" it is to get cyber information and information identifying people on websites on the internet, you may want to see this video on You-Tube:
"How to Disappear in America"
Based on an article in Wired magazine, and the personal experience of the author and the thousands of people that tried to track him in order to get the $5k prize.
Warning, the video is quite long; about 1hr 24 minutes, and the first 10 minutes have almost nothing to do with the subject.

It appears that the easiest way to get personal identity is to lure people to provide it.  One of the ways seems to be to set up websites that extract IP address, and create "interest" in getting people to visit them.  Even then, you have to have a way to filter visitors to that site.  That was essentially how the author was eventually "found".  But even then, it only occurred because of the author's laziness in protecting his identity.

  • February 02 2013
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Hi Kenneth_kw,
Here is a link to our privacy policy.

I do see that the home is claimed by your profile being used here in this thread. This means you have the ability to change/edit the home facts by clicking on "Edit" then "Edit home information." Edit home facts link.

We will share user information/activity required by law in response to a legal request such as a search warrant, court order or subpoena. As mentioned in our email communications with you, this request can be sent to legal at zillow dot com.

Per our privacy policy, we will only share personal information that you provide outside the public areas of our services in the following circumstances:

    Consent. When you consent or direct Zillow to share the information. For example, if you choose to contact a real estate agent or lender through Zillow, your name and e-mail address will appear to the recipient of the message.

    Service providers to Zillow. When Zillow hires a service provider to help operate the services or our business, Zillow may give access to personal data only as necessary to perform the service for Zillow, and subject to the terms of this privacy policy.

    Legal obligation or protection from harm. When Zillow has a good faith belief that access, use, preservation or disclosure of the personal information is reasonably necessary to (a) satisfy any requirement of law, regulation, legal process, or enforceable governmental request, (b) enforce or investigate a potential violation of the Terms of Use, (c) detect, prevent, or otherwise respond to fraud, security or technical concerns, or (d) protect the rights, property, or safety of Zillow, its users, or the public against harm.

    Merger or sale. If and when Zillow is involved in a merger, acquisition, or any form of sale of some or all of its business, personal information may be transferred along with the business.
  • January 31 2013
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Profile picture for Blue Nile
On a side note... I have a Zillow MMM on my house that I set several years ago.  Due to a fluke in Zillow's website layout at the time, I was getting over a thousand of page views per day for my house.  Some contractors and agents weren't happy that my house was getting attention, and what they were trying to market wasn't.  There were at least 3 times a contractor or agent claimed the home details page to try to stop it from getting so much attention.  And each time they erased some of the data I had put in.

But each time, I just claimed the home details page back again (with the "contest ownership").  Eventually it stopped; I don't know if Zillow blocked it from having the owner changed, or if these other parties just gave up.

And eventually, Zillow changed the website so that my house was no longer getting unneeded attention.

Zillow does protect the privacy of all of their users per their privacy policy,   So I can't imagine what info you can expect Zillow to provide regarding "who" claimed a home details page and "when".  And there is no easy search method for finding that info from the outside.

Again, there is nothing "illegal" about a legal part-owner of a property changing details on the home details pages, even if the info they provide is not correct.  Putting it up for sale when the other owners haven't agreed to a sale would be a different issue.

  • January 30 2013
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Profile picture for Blue Nile
I agree with wetdawgs on this... none of us "outsiders" are qualified to answer legal questions being asked to Zillow.

However, it is my personal opinion that you are wasting your time, and that all you will do is create animosity, which will only make it more difficult to come to any settlement agreement.  And my personal opinion is that no Judge is going to decide in your favor to grant a court order, and that it would take weeks to even get a hearing before a judge, and months for Zillow to reply to such a request.  It is just not worth it.

In the long run, no one cares if it says 5 bedrooms or 6 bedrooms... it is not going to change the sale price, and it didn't impact the Zestimate, and Zillow has less than 10% market share of available AVM's.
  • January 30 2013
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Profile picture for wetdawgs
@Kenneth:  At this point the appropriate step to move forward is to hit "respond" to the E-mail received from Zillow and ask your questions there rather than in the advice section.

  • January 30 2013
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Profile picture for kenneth_kww
I am hoping that I can get some information from Zillow regard the case that I opened. I did receive an email today from Zillow Customer Service.
I understand without a court order they cannot release the personal information. I am wondering whether they can provide some more information regarding this incident so that I can take action. I appreciated any feedback on this.

Thanks.
kenneth

Thank you for getting back to me. I assume you are responding to my case:
Zillow Customer Care. Your case number is 007853NN

May I ask whether you can provide me with more information regarding my inquiry?

1. ASSUMING a court order is available, would Zillow be able to provide detail information that can identify what user ID made the change AND what IP address that request came from?
2. Can you provide me with information on WHEN this took place? i.e., the change from 5 bedroom to 6 bedroom and size from 5039' to 6039'?
3. How long would the above information be obtained? i.e., is there a time limit before the information is erased from your database? I want to know who much time I have to take action.
4. Is it possible for Zillow to send me an official email or letter outlining the issues that I have identified in case number is 007853NN? In my inquiry I did not include any specific regarding the home. But I want to include it here now. The house in question is
XXXXXX, Auburn CA, 95603

I need this documented so that I can take it court. I really appreciate your help on this.

Kenneth
Appended below is the response from a Zillow representative.

Hi Kenneth,

Thanks for reaching out, I'm following up on the inquiry that you sent to Russ Hatfield. We are unable to provide any specific user information, IP address, etc., without a court order. Please let me know if you have any further questions.


Thanks,

XXXXXX
Zillow
Customer Service
  • January 30 2013
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Profile picture for Blue Nile
Zillow has a legal department, not a crime investigation department.  Zillow passes on all cyber crime information to the FBI and other appropriate authorities.

It is not a crime to question altered data on the site.  Nor is it a crime for a property owner to post information about their property on the site, regardless if it is correct or not.  It is a crime to solicit down payments for rent for properties that people don't own or manage though, and that is one of the common cyber crimes on most Real Estate websites.

If someone makes false accusations of other people knowingly in print, that is called "libel", and that is "illegal", but is processed in Civil courts, not criminal courts, and one can only collect actual damages.

As previously mentioned, there is no method to "prevent" such occurrences...  the best they can do is either block a user, or prevent ownership of a home details page from being changed.  Even with blocking a user... they just come back... they get new Email accounts, and they use a different web-server, such as a wi fi connection at Starbucks, or a local library, or a local community college.  I've seen dozens of users kicked off, and they have come back multiple times.  I only know of one that I haven't seen come back recently, and they filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against that Realtor®.  The Realtor® did loose their broker in the process, which made it impossible for them to continue in their profession without finding a new broker to take them on.  Fortunately, that Realtor® also had income property, so it wasn't as if the individual lost all of their livelihood.
  • January 29 2013
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Profile picture for kenneth_kww
Hi Pasadenan. 
Thank you very much for your information regarding Russ Hatfield's. I feel much better now knowing that there is someone I can contact from Zillow to get more information on this case. I understand how difficult it is for  a popular site such as Zillow on managing this kind of dispute. I still held out hope that once a dispute has surfaced, that Zillow will find some innovative ways to resolve the issue and also put procedures in place to prevent it from happening.I think that will help the whole Zillow community in the long run. At this point I have no proof who might have done something wrong or illegal. I am hoping that Zillow can provide me with information after they completed their investigation on who had made the change and what IP address that request came from. Right now I am receiving threatening text messages from my sister-in-law that the FBI will contact me and also something called ZCI (Zillow Crime Investigation) has opened a case against me. Does someone know whether ZCI is a valid part of Zillow or something that is made up? Thanks. Kenneth
  • January 28 2013
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Profile picture for Blue Nile
By the way, if you are interested in looking at some more free AVM's for "comparison", here is a partial list:

Realestate.com/homepricecheck

finestexpert.com

homes.com

Homesand.net

Eppraisal

realquest.com express

cyberhomes.com

trulia

chase

homegain
  • January 28 2013
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Profile picture for kenneth_kww
May I ask a follow up question? I received an email from Zillow regarding someone from Customer Service will contact me for case 007853NN. Note I changed the last 2 digits. I have not heard from anyone yet. I understand I need to be patient. But if no one contact me for 2 days, is there anyway I can contact Zillow given the case number? I want to request Zillow to preserve the information regarding this change such as what IP address the request came from. Seems like it must be a crime to willfully defraud someone using the internet. I like to know whether I can take any legal actions against the perpetrator.

The email I received seems to imply I cannot reply to it.

From:     Zillow Customer Care <no-reply@zillow.com>

    Subject:     Thanks for contacting Zillow Customer Care. Your case number is 007853NN

  • January 28 2013
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Profile picture for wetdawgs

Honesty, only honesty.    If one is going to have the option to edit one's home details on a free site with 100,000,000 residences, there isn't much else that could be done.

I'm glad to hear that you are planning to use an appraiser.   So now you can laugh at the silly antics that achieve nothing and be glad your brother is moving on.
  • January 28 2013
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Profile picture for Blue Nile
There is nothing that can be done to "prevent it from happening" if people are going to be allowed to make revisions...

But if one party keeps posting false information intentionally, and it is flagged multiple times, that user or I.P address can be blocked by Zillow for violation of Zillow's "terms of use" (paragraph 2.a) and Zillow's Good Neighbor policy.

But why would anyone bother to keep trying to game the system anyway, since it has already been demonstrated to be a complete waste of time and not affective at accomplishing the stated desired goals?
  • January 28 2013
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Profile picture for kenneth_kww
My brother and I are not trying to use Zillow as the source to show the worth of the home. We will certain hire an appraiser for that purpose. I am simply reacting to the change in values to these 2 homes on Zillow site. My intent for posting the question was to find out what process Zillow has in place to prevent this kind of things from happening.
  • January 28 2013
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Profile picture for wetdawgs
If the three of you have agreed to use Zestimates for making decisions related to house values and the divorce, you are over estimating the accuracy of Zestimates.     Pay for an appraiser for both homes. 
  • January 28 2013
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Profile picture for kenneth_kww
Thank you both Pasadenan and Wetdawgs for your response. As I mentioned, I did open a complaint to Zillow regarding this issue. I received an email from Zillow that someone from Customer Service will contact me. I am very grateful for that and I congratulate Zillow for wanting to do the right thing. I believe we all benefit when we have accurate information regarding our homes on the Zillow site. As a side note, I did have a conversation with my sister-in-law regarding this discrepancy via text messages. Note there are actually 2 homes involved here. One in Auburn and another one in Elk Grove. We originally had negotiated the terms that we will buy out my sister-in-law for the Auburn home and give her sole possession of the Elk Grove home. But when the divorce paper came in she asked for some outrageous things and also double the price on what we agreed to to buy her out. Also somehow the home in Elk Grove has decrease in the number of bedrooms and thus decreased it value on Zillow. If she had indeed do this. I told her that is low class. In the text message conversation she told me that Zillow had contacted her and she claimed that their investigation lead them to my name. I believe she made a crusal mistake. In my complaint to Zillow I never identified her as the person who made the change. I simply stated that the information on Zillow is not correct. Somehow Zillow had contacted her? I personally do not believe that. I think I caught her on a lie. Now if Zillow indeed contacted her  then that means there is some linkage to her. Right now I am patiently waiting for Zillow for their call. I want to know what had happened. As I mentioned, I do have property tax records and house blue print to proof the size of the home and the number of bedrooms. I truly believe in the end the truth will win.
  • January 28 2013
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Profile picture for Blue Nile
In addition to wetdawgs' helpful information..... after the info on a property is changed, it takes about 8 weeks to fully impact the estimates, that are done nominally 3 times per week.   Those trying to "game" the system for whatever financial benefit they might think it would get them often find their efforts are not worth the trouble due to the delay.

It is probably also worth reading the FAQ "what is a Zestimate".

As far as two people trying to do contradictory edits to a property?  They can each keep contesting the ownership, and taking over the home details page... but at some point, Zillow is likely to leave control of the home details page with one of the owners and not keep allowing it to flop back and forth.  It is possible to create a duplicate home details page, but the duplicate won't have the county records, thus the Zestimates won't be as close to present market value.

Though I can't find the Zillow statement right now, Zillow also claimed that the majority of people that do edits on the property want the info to reasonably reflect the actual conditions.  Certainly agents listing a property for sale don't benefit if it says there are 3 bathrooms, and when the potential buyer visits the property, there is only one...  they would be advertising to entirely the wrong set of buyers... and would be perceived as misrepresenting the listings and not to be trusted.  And most home owners doing edits are doing it for their own benefit and thus want as much accuracy as they can get... trying to impress their neighbors across the street is rarely effective.  Besides, on each home details page, there is a link stating "see data sources", that allows one to compare the info from the county records to the info provided by the owner or agent... thus it is really difficult to deceive others regarding what is actually in the public records.

  • January 28 2013
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Profile picture for wetdawgs
To claim a home on Zillow, one has to know the owner's name and click on a statement that they are the true owner or owner's representative.

Zillow does not vet accuracy of edits done by those who claim to be the owner.  (Zillow is a free site with thousands of people editing home information daily and depends on honesty.)    The person who edits home facts much click on this option:



If a person is tinkering with home facts in order to result in changes in the Zestimate for whatever reason, please be aware that  Zillow states that the Zestimate is not allowed to be used in lending decisions (see section 1 here).   I would interpret this that if one wants valuation for divorce purposes, one should  hire an appraiser.



  • January 28 2013
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Profile picture for kenneth_kww
Hi Wetdawgs,

Thank you for your reply. I will check with my brother regardinghis email address issue. I still want to understand better how Zillow deal with this kind of dispute. First how does Zillow gets the initial information regarding the home. I assume it is from some trusted source. If true, how does Zillow allows that to be changed without some proof? I am hoping the process is something like this home has some many bedrooms and this size and therefore is worth so much. If someone wants to  change it, then that person need to submit some form of proof such as they had remodeled and show the city approval. Seems to me Zillows should not allow someone so easily changed the value of the home without authenticating the information. Otherwise anyone can  claim they own the home and then change the value to whatever they want to further some agenda. I hope this is not a wide spread issue. Any other feedback is welcome. Thanks you. Kenneth
  • January 28 2013
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Profile picture for wetdawgs
If an account has been made using your brother's E-mail, he can sign say he's forgotten his password and get it reset to correct errors.    If someone has gone into his Email account and changed the password there, he'll need to start with his E-mail provider for resetting his password. 

To the best of my knowledge, Zillow does not intervene in divorce squabbles.   So, you and your brother will need to keep a record of what is happening with property details on this site and the dozens of other sites showing home data.

Good luck.

  • January 27 2013
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