When it comes to looking for a place to live, websites and apps like Zillow, Trulia, Craigslist and realtor.com ultimately offer consumers everything they need without picking up the phone. With the touch of a few buttons, an application fee, security deposit and first month’s rent can all be wired to the homeowner before they even show the property.
Once you find the perfect place, all you have to do is wire the money to the homeowner who happens to be out of the country, but has a plan to get the keys in your hand - perhaps through an “agent” or lawyer working on their behalf.
Here’s the catch – some of these listings don’t exist or are posted by fraudsters. And once you wire the money, it’s gone. As we’ve seen locally and warned about in the past, some scammers hijack legitimate listings by changing the contact information and posting them on a different site. Maybe the photos are of a home that isn’t even up for rent, or listed at an address that doesn’t exist! Whatever the case, if you haven’t done your homework you can say goodbye to the money you sent.
Here’s a suggestion. If you contact the homeowner, “Realtor” or “manager” by email or online and receive a reply with these characteristics, steer clear and reconsider how you’re searching:
1. The email starts out with Sir/Madam
2. There are misspellings scattered through the email
3. Character mistakes are ample: i.e. Hello,my nameis Susie.
4. Excessive capitilization is used
5. The email references the UK, Cashier's Checks, Doctors, Nigeria, etc.
6. The writer prefers to communicate via email and doesn't want to talk on the phone
If you think you may be a target of a rental scam, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. And as always, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is!