When the time comes to locate a rental property it is also time to put your antennae up and beware of the scam artists that want to take your money and then disappear back into the woodwork. These criminals don’t use guns or knives. They use your need to get the keys to a home and hope you are not paying attention.
Some scammers are pirating online ads from sites like Craigslist. It works like this. They copy a legitimate ad and then paste it into their new ad. They change the phone number and email address or just use the standard Craigslist reply email system to avoid showing any contact details. They will also lower the price to make the property more attractive to you. When you reply they may ask you to wire money to them and they will send you the keys. Follow those instructions and you have just been scammed.
Other scammers might locate a vacant property that looks like it is not being watched. We have even seen cases where they put up a For Rent sign with their contact information on it. This might be a bank owned foreclosure or an overpriced property that is not attracting much attention. You see the sign and meet them at the property. The scammers rental price is very attractive. They have either broken in through an unlocked window or door or stolen a key out of the lockbox. Some will rekey the front door so them having keys does not prove they are the landlord. When at the property they will tell you to pay the first month’s rent and deposit in cash and give you the key. This one works well on homes that are not being watched by the owner very carefully.
Here are tips on how to not get caught up in these scams:
1. If a property is advertised be sure to get see the house and make sure it is in good condition. Scammers will probably not cut the lawn or do any repairs. If the person showing wants you do to the repairs be suspicious.
2. Is there a sign at the property? If it is a local real estate company or property manager, be sure to call that company using the internet to determine if the number is legitimate and visit their website as well.
3. Is the rent too low? Be suspicious.
4. Does the person you are dealing with want cash and/or money up front with no application required? Legitimate landlords will want an application completed and will take a day or two to check it out before they ask for the first month’s rent and deposit. First month’s rent and deposit is usually required to be in the form of a cashier’s check or money order, not cash.
5. Do they want you to wire money? Definitely a scam.
6. Is the person renting out the home not local or they cannot meet you in person? Maybe they are in Nigeria! Scam.
7. Google the rental property address and see if the property shows up under a different company. Legitimate companies advertise on the internet and those ads may well show up when you do a search. That would give you a place to call to see if they are renting the property and the ad you have is a scam.
8. Check for photo watermarks. Scammers may not take the time to remove watermarking of legitimate property managers. Property managers watermark their ads so they cannot be pirated. If the photo is watermarked, go to the website on the watermark to make sure you are talking to the right people.
9. Meet the person renting the property at their office. If a property manager that should put you at ease. If they cannot meet you at their office, that is a red flag.
10. If you dealing with someone who is not a local property manager, ask to see the deed to the property and the persons photo ID. Make sure the names match.
It is much easier to trust a local property manager than it is to trust a do it yourself landlord. You can visit the property manager’s office to assure yourself that the rental is on the up and up. Do it yourself landlords will take more investigating and maybe an uncomfortable conversation that makes the landlord prove who they are. Just like legitimate landlords want you to prove who you are, legitimate tenants need to make the landlord prove they own the property