Thursday, November 12, 2020 / by Vanessa Saunders
By Vanessa Saunders, MBA, MIMC , Broker Owner, Global Property Systems Real Estate.
I love it when something old becomes new again, except when it comes to real estate fraud. We heard of a “new” scam involving rentals that puts a creative new spin on an old trick. Years ago, we first ran into this one when a woman came into our Rockland County office asking for the key to her new home rental in New City. We’d never heard of her, or the rental.
She had responded to a fake ad for a real rental placed by the con-man on Craig's List. He told her he lived in the Caribbean and couldn't meet her but he owned the property for rent. He convinced her to send him the deposit and first month's rent, telling her she could view the house only from the outside, and pick up the key at our office. She swallowed the story, telling us, "He's a church minister, such a lovely man." She didn't get the key. Or her money back.
Using Covid to play an old con.
In the new version, scammers advertised a fabulous apartment at a low-ball price on Craigslist. The renter called the phone number and spoke to a “real estate broker” who said that the apartment was still available, but he couldn’t show it in person due to Covid-19 precautions. He suggested the renter look it over on the online virtual tour and call him back if they were still interested. They called back and agreed to the rental. The “broker” emailed the renter a copy of his license and driver’s license and told the renters to send him a check to cover two months rent and his fee.
They did, and that was the last they heard from their broker or their money. The apartment was already occupied, the visual tour was from a prior listing, and the broker’s IDs were as phony as the Craigslist ad.
Rental scams have been around for as long as people looked to strangers for a place to live. Internet ad boards, listing portals and vacation sites which make it easier for people to find a rental also make it easier for scam artists to ply their twisted trade.
What to do?
Don't be in a hurry to apply online. If you can’t physically take a tour of the property, demand a real-time visual tour. Contact a legitimate, licensed REALTOR to make sure things are on the up and up.
Be suspicious of costs that are too low, or even too high. Do some research and know the value of rentals in the areas you're interested in. It's smart to have that information anyway, to avoid non-digital rip-offs as well.
Meet your landlord if at all possible. Be suspicious of any excuse not to meet face-to-face in some kind of safe setting. "I'm out of town/ in the military/ connecting you with my attorney" are typical dodges scammers used prior to Covid precautions.
Don't pay up front. If the person renting out the property asks for any money prior to you viewing the property or signing a rental agreement, don't walk - RUN! Tip-offs include excessively high deposits, or the use of any kind of pre-paid card (some we've heard of have even demanded I-Tunes gift cards, believe it or not), and wire transfers like Western Union.
Whatever the scam, crooks will use any media they can to separate a mark from his money. Be a careful renter and protect yourself from rental scams. If you find one, do not hesitate to contact the Federal Trade Commission, (FTC).
If you have any real estate related questions, or are buying or selling a property, CONTACT US!