Over the last few months, a new scam involving bogus rental listings has surfaced on Craigslist in the Dallas / Fort Worth area. Recently, I had a client who forwarded me an ad she found on Craigslist that seemed a little too good to be true. The ad featured a very nice home in the Park Cities area, walking distance to Bradfield elementary, complete with three bedrooms and two baths and well over 2000 square feet.
According to the ad, the owner was only asking a mere $900 per month for rent! Anyone who knows the Park Cities area will tell you that would be the deal of the century!
Well, you know the saying. If it sounds too good to be true, than it probably isn't true.
Luckily I had already heard about this scam while attending a class at Keller Williams Elite in Park Cities. There had been a recent incident involving an agent with another broker that had received an angry phone call from a person who had fallen victim to a scammer via a fake Craigslist ad. The scammer had stolen pics of one of her listings and had used them to post a bogus rental ad on Craigslist.
Unfortunately, the renter had wired money to the scammer's overseas account to secure the property and learned the hard way that she should have had a Realtor® looking out for her interests. She was trying to take her frustrations out on the listing agent, but should have consulted with a Realtor® long before wiring money overseas. A Realtor® would have easily been able to figure out that it was a scam by checking MLS, verifying tax records and market rental comparables in the area.
Here's how it works: The scammer scans various real estate listings on the internet for homes that are listed for sale or rent in the Dallas area. They will often find a really nice home and then place a fake ad on Craigslist for a ridiculously low price.
In this case, the market rent for this home advertised at $900 per month should have been in the range of $3,500 to $4,000 per month. That's not to say that there are not occasionally some great deals on rentals available below market, but this was desperately low.
So I instructed my client to not call or email on this ad and then I proceeded to do a little research. After checking with varous sources, I quickly concluded that this was definitely a scam.
But I went ahead and emailed the scammer just to see what kind of response I would get. Here's the reply I received to my email inquiry: (Scammer's reply is in italics. My notes are in parenthesis. Bold and underline emphasis added by me.)
Good day Applicant,
Thanks for your email and interest in renting my house. I am Brian XXXXXX, the owner of the house you are making enquiry of. Actually I did reside in the house with my family, my wife and my only daughter before and presently we have moved out due to my official job transfer or posting, whatever you may call it, which has now found me in Warsaw, Poland. Presently my house is still available for rent for $900 USD per month (which includes utilities), though i intended selling it off but on a later thought changed my mind and have decided putting it on rent. More so now, I’m currently in Lagos, Nigeria for an international Christian follower's crusade taking place at the Nigeria national stadium, by one Pastor Chris of the Christ Embassy Ministry.
I want you to understand that I spent a lot on my property that you have requested to rent, so I will solicit for your absolute maintenance of this house and would want you to treat it as your own because cleanliness they say is next to Godliness. It is not all about the money to be paid on rent or spent; it is all about a good maintenance culture which I want you to adopt on the property. I want you to keep it tidy all the time so that I would be full of smiles whenever I come and above all, a good, strong and tight relationship between us when I come for a check up. Please one more thing, I wouldn’t like to have any benefit of trust in you because I want to stand in your words that the property would be well taken care of all the time.
(He's playing the trust card like the ace of spades...)
I believe you have see how lovely it is if from only the pictures you saw in my posting compare to the 100% comfort to be derived from it as an occupant. Please note than you will only be able to drive by the house for now but can't have a look at the interior until i have sent the keys and documents of the house to you. Reason because, i couldnt find someone trust worthy to drop the keys with as my call down here was so sudden. I do hope you understand.
(If the terrible grammar and spelling hasn't already sounded off an alarm, the fact that he's not allowing anyone to view the home prior to sending money should have the alarm bells rattling your eardrums.)
It has a dramatic entry foyer with ceramic floor. Extremely spacious rooms throughout with lots of big windows...nice and light! New neutral paint and some newer carpet. Very quiet, low traffic area. New fridge (7/07)...I believe it’s absolutely a perfect home for you and your family. Utilities include Water, Trash, Sewer, Gas etc. Please note that, a deposit payment would be required if accepted to have the property rented.
SO IF YOU ARE REALLY INTERESTED I WILL WANT YOU TO FILL THE RENT APPLICATION FORM BELOW.
RENT APPLICATION FORM.
ARE YOU MARRIED: __________
KIDS _____ (YES/NO), HOW MANY ________
PRESENT ADDRESS: _____________________
ZIP CODE: ____________
HOW LONG ___________IF RENTING
WHY ARE YOU LEAVING__________
IF THIS HOUSE IS BEING GIVEN TO YOU,HOW LONG DO YOU INTEND STAYING ____________
WHEN DO YOU INTEND MOVING IN ______________
IF YOU HAVE A PET: _________
NAME OF PET: _____________
KIND OF PETS: _____________
DO YOU SMOKE ______________
DO YOU DRINK ______________
DO YOU WORK LATE NIGHT ____
HOW SOON CAN YOU MAKE THE MOVE IN DEPOSIT ($900) REQUIRED: ____________
WHEN AND WHERE DO YOU WISH TO RECEIVE THE KEYS AND DOCUMENTS OF THE HOUSE: _______________
(I really contemplated filling this out with fake info just to mess with the guy, but figured my time would be better spent informing the public about this scam.)
Looking forward to hearing from you with all this details so that I can present it to my family, pray over it (because I consult the Almighty God before making any decision) and if accepted, and then have them stored in my file in case of issuing the receipt for you and contacting you. Await your urgent reply so that we can discuss on how to get the document and the keys to you, please we are giving you all this based on trust and again I will want you to stick to your words, you know that we are very far apart now and only putting everything into God's hands and hope that you will not let us down.
(Again, he's playing the trust and religion cards like pocket rockets in a poker tourney. Gotta love it...)
The house will be available for rent for a period of five and a half years so you have a choice of deciding how long you intend staying there.. Here is my number 011-234-XXXX-XXXX or 011-234-XXXX-XXXX, I will be expecting to hear from you.
Feel free to call me for more information and arrangements.
Ok folks, there you have it. There are several dead giveaways that this is a scam:
- The name shown as the owner of record on the Dallas county tax rolls is a different name than the person in this email. I deleted the address to protect the owner's identity, but it was listed in the Craigslist ad.
- The rent of $900 that he is asking for this home is thousands of dollars below market for the area. Since I have full access to the MLS system, it was easy to look at market rent for this area. Plus the price supposedly included all utilities. The utilities alone could actually top what he's asking for rent. Again, if it sounds too good to be true.....
- He's not allowing anyone to see the home prior to wiring him $900. Big, BIG problem. Don't walk. RUN!
- The home was listed FOR SALE in MLS, but was not also listed for rent. The scammer obviously stole the pictures and description from the listing on another website and then published this fake rental ad on Craigslist.
Luckily for my client, she had me to check all of this out for her ahead of time. And since the Realtor® commission is generally paid by the landlord, my services did not cost her one penny.
So the moral of the story is...Use common sense when dealing with people on Craigslist (Craigslist even had a prominent warning about wiring money overseas and/or dealing with landlords that cannot meet in person), and it's well worth it to have a licensed Realtor® working for you when searching for rental properties! Watch out for scammers on Craigslist!!!