Craigslist scam have been around for a long time and a couple years ago I fell victim to this predatory scam. With our large portfolio, we always have normal monthly vacancies that need to be filled. As usual we turnover the property and market the unit for rent. In a handful of times while showing a property I discover that someone has already moved in.
Rental scams are everywhere especially on Craigslist or any other Free rental posting sites. Here are a couple of things to look for when searching or renting a property.
Are the true owners showing you their property?
They are showing you the home, but do they actually own it?
Scammers usually break into a property through a window or sliding door and change the locks. In some cases, they break the lockbox and take the keys and pretend to be the owner. Since they have the keys to open the door most tenants will not question if they are the owner.
So this is how the Craigslist scam works. This usually happens on a long weekend or over the holidays. A potential tenant finds a rental at a very low price usually a couple hundred less than the comparable in the area. The tenant requests a showing with the “landlord/scammer” and they are pressured to sign a lease the same day. As usual the tenant pays first month, last month, and security deposit. Only to find out that the true owner and in my case the property manager is knocking on the front door with the police a couple of days later.
In some cases, the landlord or property manager can force the tenant/victim out of the property and the tenant/victim loses all the money that was paid to the scammer. In other situations, the tenant claims residency to the property by connecting utilities and the landlord/property manager is forced to evict them. Finally the last possibility is both parties come to an agreement and negotiate a new price and lease. In my long career managing rental properties in Miami I had to evict them all. In this type of scam everyone is a victim.
Tip: Always verify that your speaking with an owner. Check public records and try to match the owner to an Identification. True owners should not hesitate to prove ownership.
How Scammers lure there victims.
It all comes down to money. An ad is displayed at an incredible low price or they are offering amazing incentives such as no security deposit or no last month rent. I am sure you have heard this saying before “If it looks too good to be true, it’s usually not”. These scammers are trying to sweeten the deal so an unsuspecting tenant comes and pays all the funds upfront to secure the property.
Tip: Never pay cash. Always pay with a check when possible. In most cases scammer will ask for cash, be careful and do your research before handing over cash. If the owner/scammer is rushing you to sign the lease take a step back and start asking questions.
Our suggestion is to be aware and make sure your dealing with the person that you need to deal with. Do not pay cash and don’t be rushed in to a lease. Take your time and ask all the right questions and you can avoid a costly lesson.