Rental Scams Still Lurking on the Internet.

July 23, 2010

Online Rental Scam

I first wrote this post back in October of last year, but it's worth updating again…because the scam seems to be alive and well.   Basically, scammers are posting ads on the various online classified ad sites (Craigslist, etc..) that they have homes to rent at very attractive prices, often well below market value for the area.  When you contact them (almost always via email), you'll find that for a variety of reasons they don't have time to show you the property — BUT they'll ask you for some sort of deposit to reserve this *incredible* deal, and then they'll meet you at a later date to give you the keys.

Sure sounds like the old Nigerian prince scam, because it's basically the same thing.

What they are doing is stealing photos and property information off the MLS, and then posting a fake ad online.   With today's computers, it's so simple that even a caveman can do it.  But in this competitive rental market, over-eager renters are feeling pressured to jump the gun on their competition and consequently they're prime targets for this scam.   They write the check and show up to pick up the keys — only to find that they end up with no keys, no rental….and no deposit.

But there are ways to protect yourself.

If It Sounds Too Good…

Online classified ads remain the primary place to find rentals in this area.  Unfortunately, there's almost no policing or regulation of this media — it's basically the wild west of the online world.   But there are things you can to safeguard yourself (and your money) if you come across one of these rentals that just sounds too good to be true.

  1. Google the Address.    If there's an address listed on the ad, Google it (I guess “Google” is now a verb?)    If you see various ads for the same property, but there are discrepancies in the details (price, contact info, etc..) something fishy is going on.
  2. Check the MLS.     Although most landlords today choose to rent on their own without the help of a Realtor, there are still many that will have a Realtor list the property on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS).   Since the scammers will often pull the info from the MLS, it's worth taking a quick look to see if the listing is also on the MLS — and most important, that the information matches the online ad.  (For example, is someone other than the listing agent posting the online ad?)   If you need help with this, contact your Realtor.    It takes all of two seconds to pull the property info.
  3. Insist on Seeing the Property.    Before you part with a single penny of your money, insist on seeing the property and meeting the landlord.  YOU are the one who is (hopefully) going to live at this address, so you're well within your right to insist getting access to the property.   This act alone should weed out the scam, since they shouldn't be able to provide access to the property.

Finally, trust your instincts.   If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.     Be careful out there!

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