Just today, one of our rental properties was almost occupied by the client of a scammer who stole our property manager’s lockbox and broke the window. Luckily, we’ve been made aware of rental listings scams ahead of time and we were able to change the locks before the client could move in.
Rental listing scams are not new. They’ve been done over the years. And there have been a lot of warnings and alerts about these scams. But still many people are being scammed by con artists who are getting more and more creative in their game plans.
How Are Rental Listing Scams Done?
1. Hijacking of genuine rental ads
Scammers copy genuine rental ads and then repost them in other rental sites, insertng their own phone number and email address. In many cases, they reduce the rental fee to get a renter who is eager to pay quickly. In places of great rental demand, they increase the rental hugely so they can get more.
2. Non-existent rentals
Scammers make up listings using stock photos and places on Google maps.
3. Vacant homes
Con artists scout or research unoccupied homes or vacant homes listed for sale and advertise them online as affordable rentals.
4. Emailed rental offers
Hackers use stolen email addresses to send attractive rental offers to people making inquiries on rental websites or forums.
5. Interception of inquiries on authentic rental websites
After initial communication between the owner, landlord, manager or realtor, the scammer completes the process and gets the rental deposit or advance.
Common Signs of a Rental Listing Scam
1. No vetting
The scammer does not ask for more information about you as a prospective tenant and instructs you right away to send your rental advance or deposit through Moneygram or Western Union. Real landlords want to make sure they are getting responsible and financially-able tenants. They ask for some documents and identification.
2. Rental price is too low
Not all cheap rentals are scams, because there could be issues such as noisy surroundings or older construction, but when the price is much below rates that you usually see during your search of your targeted neighborhoods, the reason most likely is that it’s a scam.
3. Rental ad is posted only on big popular free rental websites
Because they are free, huge free rental websites attract scammers.
4. No showing of rental, or no showing of interiors
The scammer is not able to show the rental property, or if they’re able to visit, the scammer is unable to open and show the interiors of the property.
Tips to Avoid Rental Scams
1. Never send money to someone you have not met or verified through a trusted person or a reliable property management company.
2. You can verify the real owners of a property by searching country appraisers’ websites. In Tampa Bay, you can search the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser, the Pinellas County Property Appraiser, the Pasco County Property Appraiser, or the Hernando County Property Appraiser.
3. Ignore or delete emails offering rentals that are too good to be true. These emails usually are written in poor English and do not look professional.
4. For rentals in the Tampa Bay area, you can use these rental websites or property management companies:
All County Property Management
Rent Me Florida
5. Read more information on the Federal Trade Commission website.