Rental Scams

Scams involving rental of properties are still going strong.  With technology growing and advancing constantly, the scammers are able to come up with more creative ways to take your money and take your identity.  I discussed phone and email scams in another article, and will discuss rental property scams here.

When marketing a property for sale or rent, one of the most important things to do is list the available property on the internet.  98% of all home searches begin on the internet, and everyone knows this – the good people and the bad people.  Unfortunately almost everything on the internet can be copied and pasted to other websites. 

With rental properties being a hot market right now, scammers are making loads of money by doing some copying, pasting, and creating fake ads…….and we continue to fail at recognizing the red flags of their scams.

One example of a scam goes something like this:

You have been looking through Craigslist, Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com, and Hotpads.  Every time you call on a rental listing, you either get no answer or it has already been rented.  You’re stressing because you are running out of time to find a new place to rent.  Suddenly the perfect 4 bedroom 2.5 bathroom pool home is listed in a prime location for the perfect price of $1000 a month.  It sounds too good to be true, but you and your family need a place to move because the house you are in has a sales contract on it, and your lease allowed the landlord to give you a 60 or 90 day notice to vacate.  You are now down to less than 30 days to move!

The ad gives an email address or a phone number and says you can email or text for more information on the property, so you text to see if the property is still available and it is.  You ask questions about the property with all responses come back with better than perfect answers. 

You are so excited that you tell the person you don’t even need to see the inside.  You have driven by the address and you are ready to put an application on the property immediately.  You are sent an application, you fill it out and email it back.  You are told that your application has been approved, but the owner suddenly had to go out of town for a family emergency.  You can send the first month rent and security deposit (maybe even the last month rent too!) to an address and the owner will mail you the keys.  You are even emailed a lease to sign.

You get a bank check or money order and mail the rent and security deposit to the address.  You let the ‘owner’ know the money is on the way and it was sent overnight shipping.  The ‘owner’ says that as soon as he receives the money, he will send the keys overnight to you.  In the meanwhile, you start packing things up, make arrangements for a moving truck, make arrangements with the utility companies to turn on or transfer the utilities.

Five days pass since the ‘owner’ received the money, but you haven’t received the keys yet.  You call the phone number you have, and you get a message that the number is no longer in service.  What??!!  So you email the ‘owner’ and you get a bounce back email saying the email address in not valid.  Double What??!! 

This is not good!  You have 5 days to vacate where you are, and you are now out at least $2000.  You make some phone calls and end up finding out that the house you paid to rent is not for rent, and has never been for rent.  The house had been listed for sale and currently has a sales contract pending on it.

You realize you have been a victim of scammers!

In this example, you are not only out $2000, but you could also become a victim of ID theft as you filled out an application with all your personal information on it, and sent it to the scammer.

How can you avoid becoming a victim? 

Tips to Avoid Being a Victim:

1.  If it sounds too good to be true – it probably is.

I know we always hear this.  But how do we ‘really’ know if it’s too good to be true?  You may not be from the area, and may not be aware that most 4 bedroom 2.5 bathroom pool homes in good condition in that location are usually rented around $1400 or more a month.  If you notice comparable homes in that area being rented for more, then you have a red flag and should use extreme caution.

2.  Never rent a property sight unseen.

Helloooooo!  Remember advancing technology?  Photos used for marketing a property are normally the best photos at the best angels in order to grab your attention.  Photos will not show the carpet looks like it’s 100 years old or that the kitchen cabinets are falling apart.  Not only does this give you the opportunity to make sure it is the right property for you, it also gives you the opportunity to meet the person face to face who is trying to rent the property to you.

3.  Check public property records.

If you are in contact with the owner to rent a property, do a search of the public records to make sure ‘John Smith’ actually owns the property he’s trying to rent.  If the property records come back that ‘Mary Wright’ owns the property, you can inform ‘John Smith’ that you will only deal with ‘Mary Wright’ from that moment forward.  If there is always an excuse why ‘Mary Wright’ can’t speak with you, you probably have a scam at work.

4.  Ask to see their identification.

When you meet the owner or the agent at the property, ask for their identification.  Don’t be shy about it, or think that it is rude or intrusive.  Before you agree to give that owner or agent your personal information on an application, verify the person you are dealing with is who they say they are.  If there is nothing to hide, then there should be no problem.

5.  Never give your personal information to someone you haven’t verified.

Until you can verify the person you want to rent from, make sure you follow numbers 2, 3, & 4 before giving someone your birth date and social security number.  Dishonest people lie and try to hide from the truth.  Anyone can say they are me, for example.  Anyone can give you my Broker’s license number.  The real test is when they have to prove it!

6.  Never send money to someone you’ve never met.

If you haven’t gone through the first 5 steps, then at the very least – DON’T SEND MONEY to someone you have never met!  It doesn’t matter if they have had a family emergency or had to go to work out of state/country;  if you haven’t met them in person and been able to verify they own the property and are actually the owner…….DON’T SEND THEM MONEY!!!

7.  Trust your instincts!

If something feels off, seems weird, doesn’t add up, or you just have that ‘feeling’ – don’t do it!  This means that you may need to take a step back away from the moment and look at everything through clear eyes.  Take the emotion out – take the stress out – remove the pressure of moving – just for a few moments.  Then examine who you are dealing with, how things are happening, what your being asked to do, and how many excuses you have been given for whatever reason.  This will give you the opportunity to make a decision based on facts and not based on the emotions of needing to move quickly.

If needed, call your attorney for help and if you don’t have an attorney, you can call a realtor for help.  It costs you nothing – zero – nada, to ask a realtor to help you find a place to rent.

I hope this information has been helpful to you.  Maybe I’ve mentioned something you haven’t thought of before.  Please share this article if you think this could help someone else.

We all work way too hard to have dishonest and bad people take our money away from us.  We must all use vigilant caution to help prevent this from happening.

               ~~We keep what we have only with vigilance~~