Beware of Rental Scams

By Trip Elix

As we all look forward to spring and finally vacation time beware of fraud. Rental fraud is one of the most common and trending forms of fraud in the U.S.  There are very few communities that have not experienced this type of real estate ‘scam.’  These rentals, that often appear too good to be true, usually present online and are also commonly found in printed newspapers as well; very few forms of advertising media are immune to it.  One of the preferred media vehicles for persons to advertise fake rentals is on the popular website craigslist.com; the site is often mentioned in news stories as examples to help warn consumers of the dangers of fraud that exist in finding rental properties online.

An easy way for the consumer to discern whether or not the advertised property may not actually exist is when an ad states that the owner is out of state, for various reasons, so therefore the rental transaction must be handled via email or over the phone exclusively. One of the countries that are notably present in online rental fraud is Nigeria; this usually manifest by a poorly written letter in English sent to the victim of the fraud advertising a property. Of course not all fraud comes from overseas; in fact the countries responsible for the majority of internet fraud are, in order of prevalence, the United States, United Kingdom and Nigeria.

Some cases that illustrate just how invasive and successful rental fraud is, include that of a California couple, who in March of 2013 came home from dinner to find two naked people sleeping in their bed.  The couple had rented the property themselves only a couple of months before without any knowledge that the property was fraudulently still being listed as available, and subsequently rented to the second couple at a rate of $150.00 for two weeks.  It was suspected that the prior tenants had sold the keys to the property, making it a viable location for someone to fraudulently rent out after they had vacated the property. Other popular targets for rental fraud are foreclosed or vacant properties, their popularity lies in the ease for which those committing the fraud can break into the property and change the locks, allowing them to advertise and take deposits for a property by producing the new keys to those who wish to rent it. In another notable case, a property manager had sixty separate families pay him for a property via checks while he fled to Bolivia, to their dismay, the families all came to learn of the fraud when they attempted to move in on the same day.

Unfortunately, there are some major pitfalls to bringing those responsible for rental fraud to justice.  In some jurisdictions, if a home owner finds out they are a victim of rental fraud they must use the civil court system to vacate the illegal ternate, who in these cases is a victim too.  In other instances, homeowners must make a report within 24 hours in order to have police involvement at all. Some ways that a consumer can protect themselves from rental fraud is when renting a property, be sure to look at the city or town public records for that property, also many times the contact information for the property owner can be found online. Additionally, a quick call to the tax assessor’s office can also give you the name of the owner of the property and the address where the tax bill is sent.

 

Trip Elix is a public speaker and author and has been published in several newspapers and blogs. His website is http://tripelix.com  

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