Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Online Exclusive: Fraudulent Rental Property Postings

The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) recently issued an alert after receiving many complaints from victims of rental property scams. The common theme in these scams is fraudsters using the Internet to try and capitalize on the desperation of people needing to find affordable rental property within a short amount of time.

Here's a typical scenario: You're searching online (on Craig's List or elsewhere) and come across an ad about a rental home in a great area at a great price. It appears to be legitimate so you start communicating with the "owner" by email. You're told the place is yours if you wire money to cover an application fee, security deposit, first month's rent, etc. You wire the money and then never hear from the "owner" again.

How does this happen? Scammers hijack legitimate home listings including the photos, change the contact information, and then list the modified ads on another site. Or they make up listings for places that aren't for rent or don't even exist.

Take these precautions to avoid becoming a victim:

  • If the rental price sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Research average rental rates for similar properties in the area.

  • If you're communicating by email, check for common red flags like poor grammar, misspellings, character/spacing mistakes, and excessive capitalization.

  • Be suspicious if there seems to be an unusually strong sense of urgency to rent the property quickly or if the person insists on communicating only by email.

  • It's a red flag when the person says he/she currently lives overseas or is out of the country on business. Scammers often tell victims this to explain why they can't meet in person.

  • Never send money to anyone you haven't met or don't already know and trust.

  • Do your homework online. Search the rental address, the landlord's name, and any contact information used in the posting before you proceed.

  • Do not fill out a detailed rental application and return it to an unknown person either by email or postal mail. You put yourself at risk for identity theft.
Please be careful out there! You don't want that "home sweet home" to turn sour.

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