Protect yourself from rental scams. Know the signs of rental fraud.
So you need to move and you are looking for a nice new rental property to call home. In your scanning of the various online rental sources you find a beautiful home on Craigslist. A 4 bed 2 and ½ bath home with 2300 square feet and a 3 car garage in Green Valley of Fairfield for $1400 a month. You contact the owner/listing agent to schedule a showing. A very nice gentleman tells you all about the property, but unfortunately he is out of the country and cannot show you in person. But you are in luck. He loves the sound of your voice and just knows you are the right person for his beloved home. He is ready to give you a 12-month lease. All you need to do is wire him the $2800 for security deposit and first months rent and he will send you the keys to move in.
That sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? That’s because it is; just one of the many rental scams that are currently present in our market. How do you avoid falling prey to one of these many scams? If you know what to look for and make sure you gather all the needed information regarding your potential rental, you can greatly reduce your chances of defraud during your rental search.
The situation above is a pretty obvious example of a rental scam, specifically because it should raise multiple red flags to the consumer.
Here is a list of some of the tell tale signs of a rental scam:
There could be hundreds of available properties to rent out in your area. One of the most common ways to promote your product or service over your competitors is to be a better value than your competition. That usually means more services or a better product at a lower rate.
Luckily for our scam artists, over head is relatively low when you do not actually have a product or service, and you are posting on a free listing site. That means they can post a home for a ridiculously low rental rate to get their ad noticed and hopefully get a victim so enticed by the value that they won’t notice the other questionable items throughout the leasing process.
The best way to protect yourself from this tactic is to know the market rental price for the home you are interested in. If you see a home that is listed at 25%-50% below similar homes in the area, be careful. You can get a basic idea of the value of similar homes in the area by using websites like Hotpads.com or Craigslist.org. You may also be able to find a suggested rental price for the particular home you are looking at by searching the address on Zillow.com.
There are some legitimate reasons why a home will be unavailable for showings. There could be tenants still living at the property, the home is having some maintenance work that is yet to be completed, or the owner/leasing agent is temporarily unavailable. There is no reason for you to rush into a lease agreement or make any payments towards the property until you have had a chance to view the property. If a home you are interested in is currently unavailable for showing, you should not make any payments to the owner/property manager (besides an application fee if applicable) until the home has been made available for you to view.
You could also drive by the property. Not only is it a good idea to get a first hand look at the neighborhood, but if the home is being listed by a Property Management Company then there should also be a sign out front of the home. If you find a different number on the sign than what was listed in the online ad, you should call the phone number listed on the sign to confirm you are in contact with the correct agency.
If a Property Management company is listing the home they should have an office in the local area. Even if the office is in a near by town it would be beneficial to take a visit to the office. If you can confirm the rental property information from the local staff, you will have eliminated a large portion of the potential scams. It is also helpful to find out whom you will be working with once you move in.
Cash or Money Transfer/Wire
Many North Bay and Sacramento property management companies will not even accept cash. You could imagine the threat risk for a legitimate business office to have hundreds of tenants sending in thousands of dollars each to the same location, around the same time each month. For that reason, most offices will require payment via check, cashiers check, or money order. The scam artists would rather not go through the extra work of having to identify themselves to cash your check, cashiers check, or money order. They would much prefer cash or better yet, have the money directly deposited into one of their foreign bank accounts via money transfer or money wire. You should have already had personal contact with the owner/Property Manager and have access to the Lease before any payments are made. The lease should specify what funds are acceptable for both the initial payment and for the future monthly rental payments.
Wherever there is successful commerce, there will be the potential for fraud. Knowing what to look for and how to proceed will go a long way in helping you avoid the potential fraud. As detailed above, the best way to avoid a potential scam is by getting as much information as possible from the Owner/Property Manager, physically walking the potential rental property, visiting the Property Management office (if applicable), reviewing the lease before making any payments, and paying with a personal check, cashiers check, or money order. For some more information on rental fraud and how to spot/avoid it, check out scambusters.org, realestate.msn.com, usa.gov, or consumer.ftc.gov.