Craigslist seems to be the go-to place to advertise anything, legitimate or not. That bastion of free speech has allowed a real estate scam to go unchecked for years that could jeopardize the safety of homeowners and potential renters as well as robbing those potential renters of their money.
Here’s how the scam goes:
The scammer scrapes the data from a legitimate real estate (for sale) listing (on Zillow, Trulia, etc.), and offers it for rent at a ridiculously low rate. Who wouldn’t want to rent a 3 Bedroom/2 Bath home in a great neighborhood for $600/month. Here’s an example with one of my listings. The scammer stole my pictures, data, headings and everything else he found useful.
You, the unsuspecting party looking for a rental property, finds this an extremely good deal (ever heard the expression “too good to be true”?). You make contact with the scammer (via email) who presents himself as an out of town owner, usually a good Christian family man, who needs to rent the place while he is…… yada yada yada. He courts you and vets you through a series of emails, and, bottom line, wants you to wire a deposit, and then he will get you the keys. Any red flags here? Like a legitimate lease, someone meeting you on premises, getting to see the inside of the house before you send your money? So you are skeptical and you drive by the house and see a for sale sign. If you are smart you call the agent who will explain the scam to you. If you are not so smart you trespass on the property, poke around, try to look in windows, etc., which might get you arrested or worse. There must be a lot of suckers out there, because this scam has been running for a decade or more. Someone must be sending the money, thinking they have made the rental deal of the century.
So you are looking for a rental property?
Many legitimate rentals are advertised on line, yes, and even on Craigslist, but keep these guidelines in mind:
- Check the property on Zillow or Trulia to see if it is listed for sale and call the listing agent.
- Make verbal contact with the person offering the property and arrange to see it.
- For your safety, never set foot onto a property without the person offering the property being there with you.
- Don’t sign a lease or tender a deposit until you have been inside the property.
- Never wire money for a deposit.
- Review the lease. Hire an attorney to review it if necessary.
- And please, please don’t waste your time on this scam. If the rent is too good to be true, it is most likely a scam.