Rental Scams – Cheating Both Landlords and Tenants
Landlords and tenants should be wary because rental scams are on the rise as criminals move in to take advantage of the volatile housing market.
Many people never consider how easy it is to take advantage of someone looking for a property to rent. Few give it a second thought. Fewer still take the steps necessary to ensure the person they’re renting to or from isn’t a criminal until it’s too late.
Avoiding rental scams begins with understanding how they work. Once you know what to look for, your chances of identifying one before you hand over your money increase enormously.
Ploys used by scammers to steal rent money:
- Renting with the intent of renting to others. This scam works just how it sounds. A scam artist rents a property so they can show it to other prospective renters. They’ll collect first and last month’s rent, security deposits and any fees or charges they can squeeze out of their victims before skipping town with the loot. There have been reports of a single property being leased or rented to dozens of people before the crook vanished with their money.
- Renting on behalf of the owner. This scam is similar to the previous one but there’s one major difference: the scam artist claims to be helping someone else rent the property. They might be sick, or overseas, or just too busy to do it themselves for whatever reason. Once the scammer collects first, last, deposits and fees they skip town. The renter then discovers the home wasn’t for rent. The owners or renters may have been away for business or pleasure, or it’s a vacation home, or it could be a foreclosed property. Either way you’re out the money if you fall for it.
- Nigerian Rental Scams. This scam is a variation of the two previous scams but differs in that it takes place on the internet and the scammer doesn’t need to be present and may never have been to the property. This scam is especially dangerous because it targets both property owners and renters. One flavor of this scam involves a crook finding a photo of a property and its address then posting them on Craigslist or other online rental websites hoping someone will be willing to wire them the first and last month’s rent, security deposits, and assorted fees (Sound familiar?). If you think no one falls for this, guess again. People are generally quite trusting and the ad will be so enticing that the potential renters will think they’re getting a bargain.
A variation of this scam is the classic Nigerian 419 scam. Someone will answer an online posting for a property and ask to pay by Western Union or an equivalent money wiring service. If the landlord takes the bait, and many do, the renter will “accidently” pay too much. The renter will apologize and ask for the extra funds to be sent back to them. If the landlord doesn’t wait for the payment to clear the bank and sends the money, they’re out whatever they send. That’s the scam and it’s very successful.
Now that you know a few of the most common rental scams, let’s look at how to detect and avoid them! Below are some ways you can find out if you’re dealing with the actual property owner.
How to detect rental scams
- Ask the landlord if you can see their ID.
- Search local government websites for the rental properties address and make sure the name listed matches the landlord’s ID.
- If a property management company is managing the condo, home or community, call them and ask whether the person you’re dealing with actually owns the property.
- Your state or county should have information regarding property management companies and whether they’re actually managing the property you’re interested in. You should be able to find the contact information for the property management company in a building lobby or posted in a common area, such as the swimming pool cabana area or clubhouse.
- If you are leasing in a gated community or a condominium, a rental application is almost always required. If the landlord doesn’t have one or doesn’t even know how to get one, I’d call that a red flag.
- Use Google or another search engine to look up the properties address, land lord’s name and phone number phone number, etc. You might be surprised at what you find.
- Considering how many homes are being foreclosed, don’t be afraid to ask if the landlord is current on their mortgage payments.
- You can also consider getting help finding a rental property from a real-estate agent.
If you’re a property owner, we offer the following tips to help you protect your investment:
Rental Scam Tips for Property Owners
- Keep a watchful eye on your home. If you don’t live nearby, consider hiring a home watch service to periodically check the home for odd activity.
- Change the locks frequently if you rent the property often. If your previous tenants kept a copy of the keys, they have access to the home!
- Ask potential tenants for references and follow up by checking them.
- Verify your tenant’s employment by contacting their employer.
- Run a credit check on potential tenants before renting to them.
- Don’t let a tenant pay more than you asked for then demand a refund. If you give it to them, you’re out the money.
- Use Google or another search engine to look up the name, phone number, and prior address. While you’re at it, check police records to find out if you’re dealing with a known criminal.
This may seem like a lot of work but much of it can be done quickly in front of your computer. If you ask anyone that’s been bilked out of their rent money, they’ll tell you it’s time well spent.