How to Unmask Rental Scammers [Video]
In this video Dave Dugdale of PickRent.com investigates online rental scams.
Transcription of Video: In the past when you wanted to find a place to rent, you would turn to the local newspaper. Typically, the newspaper provides not much to go on. Usually a short description around 5 lines long.
But today, web sites can provide dozens of photos and long descriptions, even virtual tours. So you may feel more comfortable actually renting a property sight-unseen. However, this new found convenience has opened up new ways for scammers to trick you out of your money.
As we learn from Dan Daugherty from RentalsScams.org, all you need to run a rental scam is to log on to the world wide web and create a few free email accounts with bogus names.
Mr. Daugherty says, "A lot of them use .uk email addresses, such as yahoo.uk. What we are finding is that now that AOL opened up their emails to be free (like yahoo and gmail) you are seeing a lot of scammers use [these free accounts]" Dan Daugherty tells Dave Dugdale.
Scammers go to rental sites and copy a rental listing, including the photos, and then repost it on a free site like Craigslist, usually for a much lower amount. They refer the user to an email address, and wait for the emails to come in.
Mr. Daugherty says, "So let's say the original amount for rent was $1,200 bucks, they will post it on Craigslist for $600, maybe it is in Los Angeles which is a great place, Malibu or something like that. They get lots of emails. They won't put a phone number there or, if they do, it goes to an answering machine that never picks up. The way that scam works is they pretend they are the owner and now you have all these renters or potential tenants emailing this individual because it is a great dea. It is $800 bucks. So greed is involved here. They might get 100 email leads within a 3 day period because the price is so great."
This scam not only happens to private it owners, it can also effect property managers as well.
Marc Cunningham, a property manager in Colorado, "I was shocked this last summer by the number of tenants that would call us and say 'I see your ad but I also see it for rent by the owner [on another site] for $500 cheaper per month, what is going on? What is the discrepancy?' That is very common and there is no way to stop it because these scammers will go on to Craigslist, for example, and copy your ad completely-- pictures, the description, everything-- they will repost their own ad and just give their own contact information. So, if this tenant sees this screaming deal on the internet at half the price of what it should be, it goes back to the old saying -- if it is too good to be true, it probably is."
The scammers normally come from foreign countries, which makes it almost impossible to track them. They are located off shore and beyond the jurisdiction of US law enforcement.
Mr. Daugherty describes the "sting".
"Then what happens is the scammer in Nigera says, 'I am a business person. I am traveling for the next two and half months. I will not be able to show you the property, but I will send you some keys. Please feel free to go to the house and go in. But, before I can give you the keys, please send me a $2,000 deposit by wire. If you do not like the house, I will give you your money back. And we see a lot of potential renters sending that money to them, and either never receiving keys or receiving keys that are completely fake," says Mr. Daugherty.
Mr. Cunningham elaborates. "They are always out of the country. The owner is always in Africa. About half the time the owner is a missionary --for whatever reason they are always missionaries. They generally say, 'I'm a missionary and in Africa. I have a property management firm, which is why you see the sign in the yard. But, I am not happy with them. So, I am trying to lease out on my own.'" Mr. Cunningham states that the scammer, acting as owner, will even send more pictures to the potential renter, which may be copied from other properties on the internet.
"They may say, 'You sound like a nice person. Send me a deposit, certified funds, and I will get you the lease and we will get it wrapped up and I will get rid of this lousy management company.'"
Mr. Cunningham continues, "Then [our company] will get a call two weeks later from the renter stating the owner has disappeared. People are getting suckered into this more than you would think."
Mr. Daugherty tells us how to avoid this scam.
"First, use your best judgment. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. For example, if you are looking for a house and it is $600 a month and you know that everything else in that neighborhood is going for $2,000 a month, that is the first red flag." Dan tells us to look for email replies with lots of misspellings, or who come from "a reverend or a doctor or a businessman, or they are working for the United States government for the world health association." Dan suggests doing some research on Google, as it is likely you are not the only victim.
A listing we received on PickRent.com raised many red flags and caused us to look elsewhere on the internet for duplicates. We found the same rental pictures in Utah, Miami and NY. Not only was the reposted ad worded poorly, it actually included 'ski lift views' for a rental in Miami Florida.
"If you are dealing with an owner, you need to make sure that they are in fact the owner of the property. The best way to do that is to go to the assessors office website and confirm [in their records] that it is in fact the name of the owner," Marc Cunningham tells Dave Dugdale.
As scammers have become more sophisticated in their scams, they have also become more brazen. Marc Cunningham describes on situation.
"This scam artist actually went out to the property and told the perspective tenant they he would meet him on the property. He somehow broke into the property, went inside and signed a fake lease with the tenant. He collected their money and told him he would get him keys later. So, they were living in the property and they called the management company to come pull the sign out of the yard. The management company called the police. So, it is a scary and very prevalent thing right now," says Mr. Cunningham.
Mr. Cunningham goes on to state that Craigslist "won't do a thing about it, they won't or they can't. We have contacted police, the FBI, and the FCC, and their hands are tied. Basically, people out there copying and pasting ads is not itself a crime. So, there is no oversight," Marc Cunningham tells Dave Dugdale.
As scammers get smarter, rental web sites like PickRent are creating tools to detect bogus rental listings to make the online rental industry safer.
We have created a Rental Scam Detection Tool that asks a series of questions to calculate the likelihood of a rental scam. We are also working with other rental websites to create a large database of known email scammers that you can check against.
Produced by Dave Dugdale
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