Tenants are having a hard time of things in the current economic downturn. While many are having difficulty making their monthly rental payments, and even more are frequently late with their payments, those looking for rentals are facing another threat to their solvency. Web page scammers have found a lucrative opportunity for identity-theft among these hard pressed tenants who are looking for a rental home on some of the most popular web sites where rental homes are advertised.
It works like this.
It is no longer all that uncommon to find an almost exact replica of one of my web page ads for a given property running nearly side by side with my ads. There are, however, a couple of subtle, or not so subtle, differences. First off, the fraudulent ad will show the same photos, the same descriptions of the property, and scammers even have the audacity to use my name and my company's name and a derivative of my e-mail address to defraud those who are not careful.
To seal an investigating tenant's interest, the imposter will then advertise the home at a slashed, bargain-basement rent approximately 50% less than the cost of the legitimate offering. If an offered rent is too good to be true, it probably is!
The scam then works this way. The subtly changed ad will show no telephone number where the inquiring tenant can contact a legitimate Property Manager for a viewing appointment. The applicant is thus limited to working with the "advertising party" by means of e-mail.
This works really well when the offering landlord is an owner who is managing their property from their home on the mainland or overseas and the applicant thus might expect to rent a home by e-mail.
Thus intrigued by the bargain basement price of the home, the applicant sends off an e-mail and immediately gets an application back from the scammer. The application again is almost a direct knock-off of the application we use at my company.
To complete the application, names, Social Security numbers addresses, employers and a bundle of personal information is requested.
If the applicant is now sufficiently caught up in a perceived rush to get this bargain property before anyone else beats him or her to it, away goes the information to the scammer and an unbelievable chain of events quickly follows that steals the applicant's good name, credit score and financial good standing-and probably a bundle of money.
But again, this is not all! The scammer now hastily sends off an acceptance e-mail with a fraudulent lease attached and the applicant is asked to transfer funds to cover one month's rent and a sizeable security deposit.
It is not unknown in such instances for the thus "successful" lessee to now go to the home where they come face to face with reality in one way or another, sometimes, even moving into a home on the strength of their fraudulent lease, only to be immediately evicted by the legitimate owner or managing agent representing the owner at great expense to everyone concerned.
There are a couple of points to consider. First off, no tenant looking for a rental home should ever - ever, apply for a rental home without first looking at the home with a legitimate owner or Property Manager. This is the point at which the applicant will receive an application form. If it is absolutely essential to obtain a rental sight-unseen, the applying renter should exercise extreme due diligence, a discussion of which is beyond the scope of this letter.
This said, there is another issue concerning absentee landlords. It is illegal for landlords to manage their property unless they have a local representative who lives on the island who can show the property when advertised and be easily contacted by the tenant after the tenant moves into the home. There are legitimate reasons for this, but the law is frequently ignored at the peril of tenants, and even other landlords and Property Managers.
Jerry Bangerter, RA RE/MAX Kai Lani, 25 Kaneohe Bay Drive #409, Kailua, Hawaii 96734