Craig's List Rental Scams Lead to Identity Theft & Stolen Deposits

Real Estate Broker/Owner with Fisher & Company, P.A., Marketing & Creative Strategists

This morning a local television station in North Florida aired a story about one of their employees having a On-line shoppersbad experience searching for a rental property on Craig's List, the premier go-to on-line web-site that gives the term "searching the classifieds" an entirely new meaning.

Reportedly, an employee of the station was seeking a home to rent and found a home of interest on Craig's List allegedly owned by missionaries living in Africa.  The property was offered at $800 month, $800 deposit and no application fee, and prospective tenants were asked to fill out an on-line rental application that asked for bank account and social security numbers. 

The entire ad was a scam seeking to collect money and personal information purportedly for identity theft purposes.

The reporter suggested that potential renters using Craig's List:

  • Meet the Landlord in Person
  • Tour the property
  • Make certain that the Landlord has a key
  • Be suspicious

The story drew my attention as the one-word reference to using the professional services of a Realtor was so quick and brief that we missed hearing it until we rewound the footage using our satellite's TIVO feature so that I could properly record the story's information.

The reporter clearly offered some good advice, but in my opinion should have suggested that renters consider using a professional Realtor in their home search.  Not to take away from homeowners seeking to rent their properties on their own, but we do live in a time when it is easier than ever to be outsmarted and separated from our hard earned money, and I think that the suggestion of using a Realtor was greatly underplayed.

Potential renters and buyers choosing to go it alone and not use the services of a professional Realtor should not only be cautious about giving out financial and personal details, but also cautious when giving monetary deposits. 

Before handing any form of a deposit or personal information to a "landlord", verify that the "landlord" is in fact the legal property owner and that they are who they say they are.  The Craig's List story is not unique. I have heard several stories of vacant homes being "leased" out by individuals with no authority to do so.  

Consider placing any deposits in trust with a real estate attorney of your choosing and have your attorney draw up the rental agreement.  That fee for professional legal services will be well spent should problems over price, deposits, identity theft and ownership status arise at a later date.

As a long-time real estate professional, I would encourage anyone seeking a rental property to use the FREE services of a professional Realtor to find the ideal rental property.  Here's why:

  • It will not cost you anything to use a Realtor to locate a suitable rental home. The Landlord pays the Realtor the fee, typically one month's rent for showing the property, processing the paperwork and verifying your credit and employment history.
  • Professional Realtors are held accountable to the local board of Realtors who typically have a low tolerance for misconduct, policing their own to ensure a high level of ethical standards and the reputation of the Association of Realtors. 
  • Realtors know their local market, have access to a vast database of properties, and can provide you with details on fair market rents for the area you are most interested in calling "home" so that you do not overpay.
  • Details regarding your credit application and personal information that could be used for identity theft will be held confidential by your Realtor for your peace of mind and to help you prevent identity theft.
  • Deposits held by Realtors typically fall under strict guidelines by state statutes and are monitored by the state's real estate commission. These deposits are held in trust on your behalf until the transaction in completed.
  • When using a Realtor, you are not meeting strangers - individuals you have no information or background on. 
  • For personal safety, Realtors typically don't meet strangers at residential properties.  Why should you?
  • Remember that con-artists and scammers can also work as a husband/wife team and that the term "con" is short for "confidence" and the term "artist" indicates that these people have taken their "craft" and perfected it.  Keep in mind that confidence artists will meet with you as many times as it takes, building trust until they get what they want.
  • Realtors have access to standardized un-biased rental agreements and forms that will serve to protect YOUR interests as well as those of the landlord - agreements that clearly spell out important details such as who is responsible to maintain the property, and many more details that invariably prevent misunderstandings and problems between tenants and landlords at a later date. 

I use Craig's List frequently to market and lease properties, disclosing that I am a licensed real estate broker in the state of Florida.  I have also used Craig's List satisfactorily when seeking employees for both my real estate company and marketing company. 

As the con-artists and scammers keep taking their craft to new heights and levels, we must all keep in mind: Consumer Beware!  When buying or renting properties, for peace of mind take the high road, the safer road, and consider using the free to you services of a professional Realtor.


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