Rental Property Scams are Insidious
Tough Economic Times
Tough economic times bring forth clever machinations from predators eager to harvest the hopes of innocent people that will receive nothing in return, except additional hardship.
Slum landlords have created a perpetual problem in large Midwestern cities and the advent of the Internet has provided them with a new outlet for taking advantage of renters. In addition to these landlords, bunko artists that own no property are collecting security deposits and personal information from unsuspecting potential renters electronically. This article is the result of an investigation of hard copy classified ads and Internet advertisements posted on rental search engines, online news sites, Craigslist, and similar sites. Craigslist posts an automatic warning about scams for all readers.
Unscrupulous Security Deposit Policies
Prior to the popular use of the Internet, some landlords placed an average rental ad in the local newspaper, interviewed several potential renters and required a security deposit of a few hundred dollars each. They kept all of the deposits, while renting to only one of those that paid the deposits. The legal system was such that $300-400 was not a large enough amount to attend, but Tenants Unions involved themselves and help end this security deposit scam for the most part. A good rule for renting a space is to pay a deposit and the first month's rent only after you have the lease or rental agreement signed by all parties and the key in your hand.
Over the Internet, some landlords today are requesting large deposits and even first month rents in addition, mailed without benefit of paperwork or a key. One local homeowner recently advertised a well furnished 500 square foot space in the house online at a rent suitable for the local market. The space was less than 300 square feet and not the quality advertised. The homeowner requested $400 be mailed to her 30 days in advance of a move-in date before she would accept rental references she required in a separate hard copy mailing, not by email. No paperwork would be done and no key would be provided. If people agreed to mail a money order or cash, she received money, provided no receipt, lease/rental agreement. or key, and refused to acknowledge any rental relationship on the date of move-in. This occurred 4 times within less than a year and victims began to post their stories on the related website in order to end this scam.
Landlords That Own No Property
Several instances of this scam have appeared online. A person takes outdoor photos of a particular house and property, posts them online with a description of rental arrangements, and waits for responses. On receipt of responses, the advertiser requests 1) a security deposit by money order or cash and/or 2) enough personal information in order to perpetrate Identity Theft. Sometimes they request a link to an online credit report that you have generated, full of personal information.
One person locally advertises a supposed. House-sharing arrangement, but will not giver her name or address. She refuses to meet potential renters. She does demand their name, address, past two rental reference, and past two employment references. From the rental and employment references, it is sometimes simple to contact a clerk in the office that has not been fully trained to refuse personal information from files that are not even under lock and key. This can include bank name, bank account number (from rental checks), Social Security Number, phone numbers, address, and other information. It is wise to inform rental offices, landlords, and employers that you wish no information be given out about you, even though it is standard practice not to give it out or even if it is illegal to give it out.
A bolder form of this scam is one in which the advertiser does not post pictures of the house and property, but lists only an address. The advertiser does not provide a map such as that available with Craigslist ads. Ads are often in broken English, but worded to project supposed authority. They state that the advertiser needs no deposit or lease, but will be coming around to inspect the property regularly and it had better be in good shape. Ads may state something odd, such as that the advertiser owns only one inexpensive apartment in a building – this city has no apartment ownership of that sort available, except high end downtown condos . Ads then ask that you to send to a blind email address: your name, address, phone number, fax number, occupation, employer name and address, and other data. If you look up the advertised address in a maps engine, it is usually a vacant lot, an abandoned house, or a business that is not a rental property. This is definitely am ID Theft scam.
Another version of this bolder scam is one that includes soft-pornography images of women and requests the above information along with a link to your online credit report.
"Have We Got a Job For You"
Another unscrupulous tactic is to scan advertisers that need apartments or rooms and offer them a resident manager position that requires only 6 hours of work per week in exchange for free rent and utilities. An email link takes the candidate to a professional looking property management site of which the company does not exist. The website may list actual apartment complexes in town, but the management of those complexes have never heard of the property management company on the website and are not connected to them. The company has no listed phone number and is not registered with the Secretary of State as a business,. The website has no contact information, but furnishes an online form to enter all of your personal information – which you had better do quickly so that the company can call you in 30 days for an interview. it won't happen.
Another rental scam is a fraud in which a renter with a property management company subleases out an apartment or room – often fully or partially furnished - without paperwork and insists that payments be given to him or her instead of to the company. The original renter pockets the money and does not turn it over to the rental company. People desperate for cash, or college students overwhelmed by school and/or renting responsibilities, may not see the consequences this action has for their credit histories, or that this action is criminal
A feature of a few of these scams is that some ask the subletting person to pay the entire remaining lease in a lump sum, without any paperwork. This may sound excessive, but if a college student is paying $200/month and has 6 months remaining on a lease in a large well maintained house, it amounts to $1200 – cheaper than temporary executive-type housing and hotels.
When renting a room, apartment, or house:
- Do not provide your Social Security Number, unless you have toured a legitimate property in person and are ready to submit to a credit check. Check out rental companies with the Better Business Bureau and Chamber of Commerce. Take care in considering homeshares - you might want a background check of the person.
- Do not send an online credit report to an individual to whom you will supposedly be renting or subletting, especially if you don't know their name and address and have verified this information, or if you have never met the person. Meet any individual “landlord” in public in a safe place before conducting further business.
- Do not enter personal information into online forms unless you are sure that the rental company is legitimate and the website is secure.
- Do not mail money to anyone for a security deposit. Insist upon a rental agreement or lease signed by you and the landlord or rental company and insist on the key to the property and make sure that it works. Often, you will pay the security deposit and the first month's rent together. Do not hand over the money if there is no signed paperwork or key. Insist upon a receipt, even if you pay by check. If this is an individual landlord instead of a rental company, ask to see that person's identification. If you are entering a house mate/roommate situation, you may want to require a background check from the person that will be renting to you.
- Be as informed as possible. If you are unsure about rental matters, ask an attorney or a local tenant's association.
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