Incredibly tight rental markets are breeding a horrendous new string of scams that are devastating renters and causing major headaches for landlords and property managers.
All over the country, scam artists are finding devious ways to trick renters and property managers out of thousands and thousands of dollars.
In Missouri, a woman renting a home passed herself off as the property owner and scammed six families out of first month’s rent and security deposit funds.
In New Orleans, a man broke into a vacant property and used the identity of the property manager to falsely rent out the property to unsuspecting renters who would never see him - or their savings - ever again.
Criminals have been contacting property management companies and showing interest in a rental they have listed online. The scammer agrees to rent the property and “accidentally” sends a check for too much money. Then they ask the property manager refund the overpayment to them via money order or cashier’s check before the manager realizes that the deposit they sent was fraudulent.
Several other reported schemes have involved Craigslist ads showing rental properties with the actual property management company’s photos and business information, along with a rental price that is a fraction of what the property is actually listed for. Unsuspecting renters are sending checks to scammers and showing up with moving vans at properties (sometimes occupied properties) that they’ve never truly applied for and likely cannot afford.
There’s a lot of greed out there these days, and this is what it has come to.
To protect your business and the renters in your community, here are a few things you can do to avoid getting tangled up in a rental property scam.
1. Deter criminals from using photos of your properties by adding a watermark of your business name or Web address to them.
2. Be mindful of the information you include in online ads. When listing a property, describe the area, post some photos, but don’t list an actual street address. This should reduce the the possibility of vandalism, especially if the home is vacant.
3. Gather as much information as you can from anyone showing an interest in your rental. People who casually inquire, yet are quick to seal the deal, may be suspect.
4. Do not hand over keys, or refunds, until their deposits have cleared. Money orders and checks are counterfeit just as often as cash, if not more.
5. Make sure vacant properties are secure and avoid leaving keys in lock boxes on site.
6. Regularly scan Craigslist and other online classifieds to make sure your properties are not involved in a rental scam.
7. Be leery of any offer that appears too good to be true, because there’s a good chance that it is.
Sara Thompson has published numerous articles about real estate and property management. THis article was written in collaboration with the brokers at Zenith Properties NW, LLC. Find more articles like this on their blog.