Having been involved with residential Property Management over the past 10+ years, I’ve witnessed my share of rental home scams.
Internet marketing, while wonderful and highly effective, has allowed certain scumbags to take advantage of people in a number of ways. Recently, when I saw one of our properties listed in an obviously fraudulent advertisement, I decided to reach out to the Scammer and pose as an interested party.
While most of the “transaction” went as expected, this particular Scammer did throw me a curve ball.
How the Scam Works
OK, here are the basics of the most common advertising scam. A property owner or Property Management company lists a home For Rent on Craig’s List or another internet-based marketing platform. Let’s say the actual rent price is $1,500. A would-be Scammer sees the ad, and places a duplicate of the advertised home on the market for $995, which appears to be a great deal. However, there is a caveat… the Scammer tells all inquiries that he recently moved overseas, cannot show the property, and will mail the applicants the keys once the security deposit and first month’s rent are received via certified funds.
Surprisingly, a lot of people fall for the scam and are left with, well, a lot of embarrassment. We routinely receive calls from individuals who, after seeing the fraudulent ad, drive-by the property and find our sign in the yard. Their obvious response is, “Wow, I knew the price was too good to be true.”
My Experience with the Scammer
Having fielded many calls from duped rental seekers over the years, I decided to do a little personal investigation into the inner-workings of the scam. So, when I saw a property of ours pop up on a website, I went to work.
First, I was surprised to learn that this particular Scammer not only represented himself as the owner of the property, but he also was using the owner’s real name. In addition, the Scammer created a Yahoo! e-mail address that had the Owner’s name in it. Definitely going the extra mile. We had the property listed for $1,750 per month while the Scammer’s ad was for $1,080 per month.
I e-mailed the Scammer (through an old Yahoo e-mail of my own) and indicated I was very interested in the property, loved the area, blah, blah, blah. He promptly returned my e-mail and explained, in very broken English, that he was recently transferred to London, he had the keys with him and that I would have to rely on an exterior inspection of the home to make my decision.
I, of course, responded that I had walked around the property and was ready to move forward. I just simply needed him to forward me his address and I’d promptly mail the funds. That’s when the curve ball came into play.
The Curve Ball
Maybe this is common, but I certainly wasn’t expecting what happened next. Instead of providing me his mailing address, he e-mailed me a copy of a Rental Application. While the application itself was fairly benign (no social security number required, just asking for name, phone number, previous landlord info, etc.) I was shocked that this particular Scammer was going to such “extremes.”
I didn’t feel comfortable filling out an entire application, so I simply responded that I was very busy and didn’t have time to complete such a long form. I urged him to provide his mailing address and I would happily send the appropriate funds to secure the property.
However, he didn’t budge, instead insisting that he couldn’t complete the transaction without the application. I’ll admit that I was surprised… a Scammer with some standards.
At any rate, I sent one final e-mail to him, stating we had found another home and would probably sign a lease within the next 3-4 days. If he would allow us to have the home without an application, I went on, we would immediately send him the funds. I never heard back from him.
Our Course of Action
Typically, in cases where our properties are presented in a fraudulent ad, we promptly notify the webmaster or simply mark it as “fraud” right on the website. That typically does the trick and saves us a lot of unnecessary phone calls from both our Owners (wondering why in the world we reduced the rental price so drastically) and would-be Tenants.
Bottom line: if the price sounds too good to be true, it probably is.