The FINANCIAL — You have scoured hundreds of online classifieds looking for the perfect apartment rental.
After weeks of clicking, one listing catches your eye—the place is perfect and, most important, the price is right. Before you put any money down on that great deal just remember: sophisticated scammers use the Internet, and particularly free classified websites, to prey on unsuspecting real estate victims.
According to The Western Union Company, rental property scams generally happen in one of two ways: 1. You’re looking for a house or apartment to rent and get scammed by an “owner”; or 2. You’re renting out a house or apartment you own and get scammed by a “renter.”
How these Scams Play Out — In the first scenario, you’re searching the Net and come across a place in a great area, at a great price. The advertisement looks legitimate so you start communicating with the “owner,” generally by email. The owner says the place is yours if you wire money to cover an application fee, security deposit, etc. You wire the money, and then never hear from the “owner” again. How does this happen? Scammers hijack legitimate listings, 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.
In the second scenario, a “renter” contacts you expressing interest in renting your place. You start communicating, also generally by email. The renter sends you a check for a deposit but then contacts you later to cancel. You wire the money back only to find out the check was a fake.
How to Protect Yourself — “Whether you’re looking for an apartment or house to rent or rent out property you own, finding the right place or tenant is challenging,” said Shelley Bernhardt, Director of Consumer Protection at Western Union, a leader in global payment services. “Fraudsters use sophisticated techniques and create very believable stories to lure you in. However, there usually are one or more red flags that can tip people off to a possible scam, such as a renter wanting to rent a property sight unseen or extreme urgency to get a deal done.”
Here are some tips to keep in mind: 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.
Most renters want to see the property before they commit; if they don’t, chances are you’re dealing with a scammer. Another red flag is if they have an unusually strong sense of urgency to get you to rent or rent your property to them very early in communications with them.
Be cautious when dealing with people who say they currently live overseas or are out of the country on business. Scammers tell victims this to explain why they can’t meet in person. Be cautious also if they prefer to communicate via e-mail only.
Don’t send money to anyone you don’t know and trust, especially people you’ve never met in-person.
Western Union provides a trusted and reliable way for people to send money to family members and friends. However, it is important to remember that a money transfer can be paid out to the receiver within a short time—even minutes—and after the money is paid, consumers cannot obtain a refund from Western Union, even if the transfer was the result of fraud.