Online Rental Scam Alert – Protect Yourself!
By Troy Curnett, Broker/Owner/REALTOR®
I wanted to share an age-old scam that has resurfaced with a vengeance recently with the rise of the internet. Very large numbers of scammers are posting false ads, often times on Craigslist, with legitimate photos of the property they are pretending to rent. Most often they have stolen those photos from a current legitimate rent ad or property for sale. Typically, they mimic the legitimate ad and may have even found the true owners name through the public records. Their goal is to get trusting people who need to rent a home to send them money for a security deposit in advance of viewing the home. They know the rental market it tight in many areas of the country.
1st Red Flag
The first red flag is if the rent seems too good to be true based on the market. The scammers will typically undercut the market to cast a wide net and also because they want the rent to be so amazing the victim will be more motivated to follow direction.
2nd Red Flag
The second red flag is if the scammer sets the stage for being out of the area, perhaps out of state even. They do this in an attempt to legitimize the reason for not being able to show the victim the home before the application process begins.
3rd Red Flag
The third red flag is if anyone ever asks for money up front BEFORE you have had a chance to view the interior of the home in person. Scammers can steal photos, they can know the correct details of the property (from some other source), they can even know the name of the true owner and assume their name in all correspondence. A few brazen souls have even been known to walk around the exterior of the property with their victim, but rarely do they have access to the interior.
I recently experienced this attempted scam first hand when I posted a house for rent on Craigslist. Luckily, none of the potential victims fell for it and called me when they found my legitimate ad. I was able to report that ad to Craigslist and it was taken down, however, these scammers are not deterred as they can simply create another email address and move on to another property. I also have a friend who has a co-worker who fell victim to this scam and lost a lot of money which is why I decided to share this warning.
If you or anyone you know is thinking about renting a home, please share this information with them. They key is to watch for any red flags in the communication and to insist on seeing the interior of the home before sending any money to the Landlord or Property Manager. Also, search for other ads with the same property address as you might find the legitimate add posting for sale or for rent. And trust your instinct, if the communication seems strange, if the story is just a little bit convoluted, then something is definitely not right.