With the rise in people, nationwide, losing their homes to foreclosure, renting a home is the next step for housing their family. This is a great decision because rent prices have dropped several hundred dollars per month in the past 2-3 years. So, it can be a much cheaper alternative than owning, and the lower rent price will allow folks with financial hardships to live a little easier until they can get on their feet again.
Well, unfortunately, scammers are waiting for you, and will take advantage of you. If you are using Craigslist or some other “publicly available” website for searching for rental property, you have more than likely run across a scam ad for a rental property. And, you may not even have known it. Being that I post my rental listings on Craigslist, I get calls all the time from tenant prospects asking about them. A few times, I’ve met them at the house and we discuss the terms. Then, they say something along the lines of, “So, is the rent really only $600 per month?” I quickly respond with, “Uh, no sir, it is actually $995. Where did you see the $600 price?” Long story short, they saw an ad on Craigslist with my property’s picture and a description matching the house, but for a price NOT at what I advertised it. I confirmed this.
What the scammers are doing is taking a legitimate ad, “borrowing” the photos, copying the description nearly verbatim, and making their own ad at a price that’s a couple hundred dollars lower than my market price rental. Sometimes, they’ll even go as far as cross-referencing the property address with the tax rolls, in order to obtain the owner’s name. They will use that information to create a fake email address, usually containing the owner’s name, and publicly post that in the ad, to create the illusion of legitimacy. It’s pretty convincing.
In my title, I borrowed a phrase from the Craigslist warning: “Avoid scams and fraud by dealing locally”. That warning goes further to say that rental prospects should take caution to only work with landlords or property management companies who are able to meet you at the property and, of course, give you access to the property. You should also take the time to drive by the property prior to making any contact with the “owner”, to see if there is a sign in the yard or a lockbox on the front door. If the contact information in the ad is in conflict with what’s on the property, then you may be facing a scam. If the “owner” can only communicate through email and/or phone, and they insist on you paying them via Money Gram, Western Union, wire transfer, or other electronic means, then you are more than likely being setup for a scam. There is no way to get your money back, if you fall for this.
The "owner" will have a pretty good story, too. It may be that they are a missionary family and they are in West Africa. They'll have photos of their family, kids included, and their story will be very touching. It could be that they took a job transfer to England, but didn't have the time to get it rented prior to leaving. Then, it's been vacant for several months, so they just need to get it rented and that's why the price is so low. To the unsuspecting renter, these are all really good and convincing stories. But, it's a SCAM!!
In my opinion, it’s best for you, as a rental customer, to ONLY work with a local Property Management Company. We are licensed professionals, and we are able to confirm the legitimacy of the properties we are renting. We keep track of the rental ads we place, so we know what’s accurate and what market rent prices are. Personally, I check on my Craigslist ads, to make sure they aren’t being scraped and used for scams. Unfortunately, it’s up to the Craigslist staff to remove these ads, once we “flag” them, and they are less than prompt at doing this. I flagged a scam ad over a week ago, and it’s still there. But, now that I know it’s there, I always ask callers about which ad they saw, so they know which ad is accurate.
The old adage is in full effect with this affair: If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Renters, don’t let yourself be scammed. Make it a point to work only with licensed real estate agents and property managers when searching for rental property. Not doing so could cost you hundreds of dollars, which could be used for more important things, like, RENT.
Thanks for reading...
Eric M. Boyd, Realtor, e-PRO
Step One Realty...A Jacksonville Property Management Company
cell: 904-813-5010 fax: 888-345-5054