Consumers frequently turn to Craigslist when searching for an apartment or a home to rent because the popular online classified advertising site abounds with rental listings.
At this time of year housing is on the minds of many college students. Unfortunately, the Better Business Bureau warns that scamming is on the minds of many crooks.
A study by New York University last year uncovered 29,000 fake listings on Craigslist among 2 million for-rent ads in 20 major cities. It further stated that Craigslist failed to identify more than half of rental scam listings.
Here are four of the most frequent scam types:
▪ A fake post instructs a responder to purchase a credit report. The poster then gets a commission from the credit reporting site. (There turns out to be no real property for rent.)
▪ Scammers duplicate rental listings from elsewhere and post them on Craigslist at lower prices. A deposit is then paid by wire transfer to the fake “property owner.”
▪ “Realtor service” companies claim, for a fee, to provide access to listings of rent-to-own and pre-foreclosure properties. In reality, the “company” has no legitimate connection to the listed properties.
▪ Crooks gain access to properties or homes and show them to prospective renters as if they were the real owner or manager. Often they will offer a deal on a reduced deposit or claim to pick up some of the fees involved. They will make off with your first month’s rent and your security deposit and you will have no legal access to the property you thought you were renting.
How to avoid scamlords
Here are tips for keeping fake landlords and fake property managers from drawing you into their rip-off schemes:
▪ Verify that the person claiming to own the property is the real owner. At the very least, drive by the property and look for signs that it is actually for rent. Call the phone number listed at the physical address and verify as well. If you can’t visit the location yourself, ask a friend to check it out for you.
▪ Search online to see whether the same ad is running in other cities. If so, it indicates a scam.
▪ Never pay a security deposit or the first month’s rent with a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. Payments made by these methods are just like sending cash – it’s gone forever once you send it.
▪ Scammers can hack into the email addresses of property owners on Craigslist. They pose as the real landlord, answer your inquiry with a hard sell aimed to get at your personal information and your money before even showing you the place. If they make excuses for not being able to talk to you except through email, it’s a scam.
▪ Watch out for the overseas landlord scam: Crooks may claim to be in the military or otherwise engaged overseas, requesting that you send them money.
▪ If the deal sounds too good to be true it almost certainly is. Consider what market values are like in the area where you want to rent. No one is in the business of losing money. If the rent seems a lot lower than similar places within the area, it’s either a scam or there is something extremely undesirable about the property.
▪ If anything at all about the deal just doesn’t feel right to you, move on to something else.
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