Ripped From the Headlines: How to Avoid Rental Scams

The headlines these days say it all:

“Couple trying to rent home on Craigslist loses $1,200 in scam”
This innocent couple lost $1,200 because they fell for a Nigerian scam. The “property owner” claimed he was an African missionary and he needed the couple to wire him $500 to reserve the property. He later asked them to wire him another $700 for the first month’s rent, and they obliged. When the couple went to the home to move in, the person who lived there didn’t know what the couple was talking about.

“Craigslist scam targets Kentucky real estate”
In this scam, someone from West Africa hijacked a legitimate rental ad and asked interested renters to send him a check and then he would mail them the keys to the property. No one sent him money – but apparently a dozen people were tempted by the scam.

It’s an unfortunate and ugly side of the real estate industry, but scamming is commonplace these days and renters and rentees alike have to protect themselves.

Here are some ways to avoid being scammed:

Double check all the details when dealing with internationals. In some parts of the world scams are a full-time business. If it seems too good to be true is usually is. Always ask for references!

Look out for phony ads. If you are suspicious of a rental offer you see online, check with the local property valuation administrator’s Web site to verify the homeowners’ names.

Use credit cards. Cashier checks and wiring schemes are all the rage these days. If possible, use credit cards for all transactions because credit cards will more thoroughly protect both the renter and rentee from fraud.

Require a phone conversation before meeting or sending money. It’s always wise, especially when doing business through the Internet, to speak directly with the person you’re working with. An email exchange isn’t enough. Exchange phone numbers and make sure the person’s number works and is legitimately theirs.

Ask about the neighborhood. If you’re talking with someone about renting their home, ask them questions about nearby restaurants and shopping malls. Check those places online and make sure they match up. Someone who may have hijacked an ad won’t know where the nearest Olive Garden restaurant is and that would be a red flag not to do business with them.

Ask for references. Only a legitimate rental property owner will have previous tenant references to offer you.

Be smart and safe. Because it’s important to not only protect your money but yourself too, never agree to meet someone you met on the Internet alone. We recommend first meeting in a public place with a partner by your side vs. privately in your home.

If something sounds too good to be true… it probably is! If the rental rate is extremely low for the location or the amenities offered don’t fit the area, then you can probably spot a scam from afar. Trust your instincts – there are other rental homes for the taking!

Remember, if you’re smart and you do your due diligence, you will likely avoid scammers who prey on timid people.

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