The ongoing issues with rental scams have become a huge problem for those people trying to rent residential properties, or vacation properties. Although there has been a lot of discussion of this topic making people aware of the scams that are out there, it continues to be an issue, due to the increasing number of people in the housing rental market.
The demand for residential housing rentals has been increasing, while the availability of rental units is decreasing, and rental prices are continually getting higher. So if a good deal appears, it’s only natural to jump at the chance to snap it up. But renters need to be wary of those really good deals, and remember the old adage, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
That’s not to say good deals don’t exist, just that you should use caution.
Many of these rental scams often involve a legitimate rental property listing, often on sites such as Craigslist, that has been hijacked, and re-posted with the landlords’ contact information changed to the fraudsters’. When potential renters contact the supposed landlord, they’ll be given a story about how the landlord is out of town, or out of the county, and not around to show you the property or take payments personally. There may be a story, such as, you can’t view the rental unit, because it is currently occupied, but the deal is so good, or the rental property so desirable, that you want to snap it up immediately.
The fraudster will ask you to wire the damage deposit, and first month’s rent, to a foreign account, or send payment to a non-physical address, such as a post office box. Then they’ll ask renters to send their personal information for a credit check over the internet, which opens the door for identity theft, and more financial scams against the renter. It’s a nightmarish scenario, and you may find yourself thinking, “How could anybody fall for that?” Yet the story behind the scam sounds plausible, and for those who are desperate for a place to live, it can be easy to fall victim to this scam.
The best way to protect yourself is to refuse to send money when the “landlord” won’t let you in to see the place, or even meet you in person, and you don’t have a physical address for the landlord. Money, deposits, and any personal information required for a back-round check should only be given in person to the landlord, or the property management company. You should be getting receipts for any payments, which should have a physical address, and relevant tax numbers on them. A copy of the rental agreement, with both parties signatures on it, should also be standard paperwork that you obtain.
Educate yourself, and educate your loved ones about how these rental scams work, and how to protect yourself. Young, first time renters, and seniors are particularly easy targets for these scams, so make sure to talk to your family, to prevent them from becoming a victim.