How to Avoid Rental Scams and Pitfalls

A recently publicized rental scam on Craigslist put unsuspecting renters in a home the “landlord” did not own and put the unsuspecting owner in a position where he had squatters to get rid of. The renters thought they had a legitimate lease and paid money only to lose their money and the place of residence. The scam artist came away the richer. These type of rental scams purveyed on even legitimate website rentals are rampant. Vacant homes are usually the target of these con artists. When you are renting, how can you avoid getting left in the cold with these scams?

Another big problem are landlords who owe money on the property and are not paying. Foreclosures do not have to honor leases and you can get kicked out of the property with very little notice, usually without your security deposit.

1. Seek help from a professional Realtor. The services of a professional Realtor do not cost you any money as a renter and can save you from these schemes. Professional Realtors have access to the MLS where the rentals are legitimate. Plus, they know the best way to apply and can help you save you time and hassle calling and arranging a bunch of appointments – one stop shop. Also realtor’s have access to lien, tax and property information to double check the landlord and if they have foreclosure judgments. A professional Realtor is the best possible chance for success finding and getting a rental property.

BUT if you choose to go it alone, this is what to look out for.

2. Check property records to ensure the person you are talking to is the actual owner. This can be tough, but if you can get the PIN number or look up the tax records on the county website, you can get an idea of who the tax bill is mailed to. Call the county clerk office to see what you can find out the owner of the property. You always can complete a freedom of information act to get some information.

3. The county recorder of deeds knows liens filed on any property and you can find out if the property is in foreclosure and maybe even find the property owner there. Sometimes this information is right on their website.

4. Beware of obscure websites or sites that allow anyone to market rentals for FREE. This is the harbor of scammers because they don’t have to pay and there is less paper trail. That is why Realtors and the MLS are the best source of legitimate rentals. Even popular real estate websites like Zillow, Trulia, Hotpads, Postlets, etc. can have fraudulent, as well as real listings. And Craigslist seems to be a favorite hot spot for these scammers.

5. If you are rental challenged, you will be a good target for these cons. People who have low credit, evictions, criminal records, etc. will have a harder time being accepted for rental. If you have been turned down by everyone else and this person takes you, be a little more skeptical and do some homework.

6. Ask neighbors. This is awkward for a potential renter to knock on the next doors and don’t expect a great reception as neighbors don’t typically like renters, but you will find out for sure then who really owns the home.

7. Ask questions of the landlord. I know this is usually the reverse, but ask about how long they have had the property, did they live there? Do they own a lot of properties? Is a corporate or personal landlord? You can ask things in conversation and watch for the answers. A scam artist will be pretty good at lying, but you can sometimes tell.

8. Ask the village or police. Some villages have to have landlord’s licensed. They would know who owns the property.

9. Do your internet research. Google the address of the home to see it if is really for sale. Drive by to see if there is a sign. Google the phone number, email and name of the prospective landlord. And check the scam sites for any similarities. There is a lot of information out there at your fingertips.

10. Look for signs. In most cases, hindsight is 20/20, but people usually say they should have known it was a scam due to one reason or another. If they are not easy to contact to see the property. If they don’t have easy access to the property. If they don’t know a lot about the property or the area. If they are not easily available to give rent to or contact for repairs, etc. Sometimes where they want to send the rental check or how you get the keys can be a big sign. Scammers very often say they are out of town or abroad and you can send security and rent to them via wire or money order, etc.

11. If it is too good to be true – it usually is…If the rental price is so much less than others in the market, there is usually a reason.

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