Property Managers across the country are reporting an uptick in rental scams. These scammers or “fake landlords” are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their methods, and are taking advantage of a robust rental market, and renters’ sense of urgency in the face of housing shortages in many markets.
In previous years, one of the more common scams involved pirating a rental ad (typically on Craigslist), copying the photos and basic text of the ad, changing the contact information, and pricing the property at well-below market rental value to generate leads. Then, when the unsuspecting renter called, the scammer would tell them the property could be shown in a few days, but to send money to secure the rental now. It worked. Many renters were taken advantage of in this manner. We property managers caught on to that rather quickly, and started watermarking our property photos. This simple step seemed to eliminate much of the fraud associated with “fake ads.”
That is, until recently…
Today, the scammers are increasingly savvy to the widespread use of electronic lockbox systems for showing vacant rental homes. The newer scams go something like this:
- The scammer creates a fake listing on Craigslist, Trulia, HotPads, Zillow, or some other online rental site.
- Unsuspecting renters contact the scammer in response to the listing.
- Meanwhile, the scammer registers through your system to view the property as though he/she were an actual prospect, obtaining an access code to view the home.
- The scammer talks to the victims using a VoIP number like Google Voice and tells the victims they are the owner of the property.
- While a victim is at the door to the property and on the phone with the scammer, the scammer provides his fraudulently-obtained access code to the victim, and the victim is able to enter the property.
- In some cases where a photo ID is required the scammer uses a fake ID. In others he gets the victim to text him their ID and then uploads that to satisfy the requirement.
- After the victim has viewed the property, the scammer then requests the victim wire the deposit to the scammer to secure the rental.
- The first the property manager learns of this is when the renter comes to your office to pick up keys to the home…
What can we do, as professional property managers, to protect the renting public, our companies that bear the burden of dealing with unauthorized tenancies, and our owner/clients who depend on us to reasonably secure their properties?
- Check your vacant properties frequently! If it’s vacant, whether or not you’ve had showings on the home, you need to check the property at least weekly.
- Conduct a periodic Google search using your vacant property’s address. Does it show up as listed for rent on any site/s other than the ones you’re using? Look at the ads.
- Flag and report any unauthorized advertisements.
Get the word out!
- Tell your prospective renters to be wary of rental scams.
- Beware of owner/landlords who are “out of town.”
- Beware of rental rates that seem ‘too good to be true.’ They probably are.
- Beware of a “landlord’s” urgency to obtain money or personal information from you.
- Don’t wire money to ANYONE, unless you’ve verified that they are actually the owner, or the owner’s authorized agent.
Wherever there are housing shortages and anxious consumers, there will be a criminal element. Criminals prey on the most vulnerable of us. As professional property managers, we have to take this seriously, and be proactive in our efforts to prevent rental scams.
What additional methods of rental scam prevention do you use?