Rental house scams are a type of con that generally targets people seeking to lease a primary residence or rent a vacation home on either a short- or long-term basis. The FTC and various consumer protection agencies have warned that this is a growing problem in the U.S. Part of what makes people susceptible is that real estate isn’t a domain traditionally associated with this kind of crime. It takes a certain boldness to offer a property you have no access to, and this brashness is often what helps the con succeed.
How Rental Scams Work
Finding a new home or vacation rental can involve stress and a lot of legwork, and criminals prey on this. They’ll often allure you with a deal too good to pass up and/or the ability to close the deal and move in quickly. People on the verge of being homeless or vacationers who waited last minute to secure their rental are particularly prone to this kind of swindle. At all times, renter beware!
Focus on Listings Published by Known Entities
Many of the fraudulent entries you’ll come across online are published on websites that aren’t moderated in any manner. That’s not to say that websites that specialize in real estate listings won’t have any bad listings, but they are much rarer because the large companies have their names at stake and work hard to eliminate those listings and ban accounts used for criminal purposes. You also need to be wary of private listings made on sites like Craigslist and via your local newspaper and other publications. Many landlords use real estate agents or property managers in Boerne for this precise reason.
Deal with Locals and Meet in Person
Use the Internet to Research the Property
Emails with Bad Grammar and Spelling
Some people running rental house scams are professional criminals who are quite good at what they do and can fool even the best of us. Most scammers, however, are just people trying to turn a quick buck in an unscrupulous manner. If corresponding by email, it’s not unusual to find misspellings, poor grammar, an unprofessional quality to the writing and so on. True professionals are very careful when writing their emails because their reputations and your interest is often at stake.
Application Process Ahead of Viewing
Getting you to pay security deposits and rent is not the only way rental house scams work. These scams can also be used to steal your identity. This is why you should never fill out an application in advance of thoroughly vetting the leasing party. Many property management companies and real estate agencies do offer online applications, but you should be very wary of these unless you’re completely confident in that company and there’s a secure connection.
Never Rent Unless You Can Go Inside
Most people running rental house scams don’t want to meet you in person and won’t have access to the home even if they’d be willing. They’ll often concoct a story about why you can’t go inside and perhaps advise you to peek through the windows. If you do go to see just the outside of a property, check for signage and postings by banks, real estate agents and so forth for clues.
Be Wary of Rentals Priced Below the Market Rate
Rental house scams often involve offering you an amazing deal that you don’t want to miss so that you’ll throw caution to the wind. Amazing deals are rare in real estate markets even for rentals. The features of the home, as well as market factors, will dictate the rent, and the difference between similar homes will be small. Landlords usually charge between 0.8 and 1.1 percent. Anything below 0.8 percent or that differs a $100 or more a month from similar rentals should be a big red flag as well.
Never Pay Ahead of the Lease and Never Pay in Cash or by Wire Transfer
The lease is what legally binds you to pay the security deposit, the first month’s rent and so forth. The only money you should ever consider paying in advance is an application fee. These usually range from $25 to $100, so even if you make a mistake, at least you’re not out hundreds or thousands. Once you agree to and sign the lease, then you can pay; however, you should always pay in a traceable manner, such as by check. A scammer who cashes your check has now created a paper trail. Cash and wire transfer cannot be traced. Even paying by an e-wallet like PayPal is not advised.
Reporting Rental Scams
If you do believe you’ve encountered a scam, contact your local law enforcement. If you found the scam on the Internet, report the fraud via the FTC website. For listings posted in local publications, you can report those listings directly to the organization who publishes the content.