Over the past few weeks, I've seen a few different scams regarding rental listings. While online predators are a-dime-a-dozen, they've infiltrated the real estate industry by copying legitimate listings from websites and duplicating them on Craigslist to scam potential renters and buyers. The general M.O. for these scammers is to present themselves as "out-of-state owners" asking for a certain sum of money to be sent in exchange for keys to the house. Their excuses for being distant range from missionary work across the world, to work-related duties or a family emergency. At first it might not seem too fishy: they give you a good story about why they're not around to show you the house, they might send you an application mentioning the importance of finding qualified tenants and, after all, you clicked on their listing, so it doesn't feel completely unsolicited. Here is a list of examples and signs to look for that may indicate a rental listing scam.
1. The price is too right: You read through the listing and it has every amenity possible (including a toilet made of gold and a live-in butler) but the asking price is 1/2 of the comparable listings. Some of these listings also show stock photos or pictures that look waaaaaaay too nice - no one is giving away luxury living, sorry.
Approach with caution with you see "deals" like this.
2. Little or no pictures: Keep in mind that some legitimate listings don't have pictures to show (something I will never understand), but the "fishy" listings I'm referring to will typically have many details about the property and lack pictures. Let's be honest - if you're going to take the time to write out all the wonderful things about the property, why not post pictures?
Would you pay for your date's dinner before ever meeting them or seeing what they look like? Exactly.
3. False name: On Craigslist, you generally inquire to an auto-generated email address but if the name from the reply looks like a toddler uncontrollably banged on the keyboard, something's up.
Sure VNSIRUHTIUESPRG UUUFGSWQADFG, I'll mail you a check for $500, right after I wire $10,000 to my long lost Nigerian uncle who holds the rest of my family fortune."
4. Undisclosed location: So tell me, VNSIRUHTIUESPRG UUUFGSWQADFG, where exactly is this $500/month all-inclusive Taj Mahal-inspired unit located?
This is where they generally insert one of many *security-related* excuses for not disclosing the address, such as precaution against break-ins and vandalism. Interesting how the "safety-prone owner" can't give you the address of your potentially new home but expects you to blindly send money to a stranger? No thank you.
5. The follow-up: After the initial contact, the "owner" is urging to get in touch. They typically send an email, then follow up with a call and a text (information from the "application" you filled out). By this point, you may feel like something is wrong, and you're probably right.
6. Common sense clues: Now, I'm no Sherlock Holmes, but when you receive a voicemail from someone with a thick foreign accent that happens to be the same one who signed his prior email as "George McCallister" (real life example), throw out a challenge flag.
7. Showing a lot of leniency: Bad credit? Not a problem. Fugitive from the law? I'm sure you didn't do it. Don't want to sign a lease? That's ok. You want to move in with your pack of rabbid wolves? No problem, send an additional pet fee. Want to make installment payments for your security deposit? You got it. (Hint: most of these terms should be a problem).
These scammers want to make you feel like they're bending over backwards to have you as their tenant when in reality, they'll do anything to get you to send them money ASAP.
Although a lot of these descriptions seem exaggerated, they're not - and here's the bottom line: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you've fallen victim to these scams, start by contacting your local authorities.
Here are some precautions you can take:
- If a listing seems fishy, try to find it on another site and look for a contact name and number. If it's a broker or property management company, a simple internet search should give you more information. Contact them about the listing.
- Visit the property before filling out an application. (On the flip side, owners and property managers should be cautious when dealing with tenants who blindly apply to listings prior to seeing it)
- Don't send money to anyone you haven't met, especially without seeing a property.
If you are interested in professionally listing your home or apartment for rent, contact Hennessy Property Management - we're here to help.
All the best,