When a Rental Listing is Too Good to be True
Can you imagine trying to find a home in a distant city without the internet? There are so many of these resources now available to military families. You have a virtually endless supply of rental listing websites, local classified ads posted on a local paper’s website, real estate databases and military centered blogs and Facebook groups at your fingertips. However, the rise in these rental resources has also ushered in a rise in rental scams.
For military families, the internet has made it much easier to find community information and listings before you arrive at your new location. However, this also opens military families, who may not have a chance to visit their new location before arriving, to scams. Scammers know this and target locations where there is a concentration of military families.
What are common housing scams?
Scammers are constantly adapting to the newest technology and adapting their schemes. However, when looking to rent a home, scammers tend to use one of the two techniques below.
- Hijacked Ads: Scammers take a real rental ad from one website or newspaper. They post the same ad on other sites but just change the contact email or phone number.
- Phantom Rentals: Scammers post ads for rental properties they either don’t own or don’t exist. Military families are susceptible to this scam because they often are not in the area where they are looking for housing.
These scammers are either trying to get you to send them money or personal information. That makes it difficult to identify scammers because renting a home requires money and personal information.
How can you avoid housing scams?
There are warning signs to look out for:
- Too good to be true. If the rental price is way too low for the neighborhood or size of the unit, then there is a possibility it is a scam.
- Wiring Money. Wiring money is like sending cash. There is no reason that landlords should require you to wire money or use cash for fees, rent and deposits.
- Asking for too much money before sending the lease. Asking for security deposits and first month’s rents before you receive the lease is a definite warning sign.
- The owner is out of the country. Never send money overseas to a landlord you have never met.
Be ready to play detective. Search the name of the owner, the address of the rental, and other information they provide you online. Does the landlord’s name come up in Craig’s List listings in several states? If you have reservations about a listing, ask for additional proof from the landlord. A reputable landlord will be able to provide additional proof if not, keep looking. With all of the technology available to us, there is no reason a landlord cannot provide real-time photos of the property (inside and out).
Also, trust your instincts. If you are communicating with a landlord via email and your internal alarm bells are going off, trust that feeling. Copy and paste some text from the email and see if anyone else has posted about housing scams.
What should you do if you have fallen prey to a scam?
Don’t be embarrassed if you become a victim of these types of scams. These scammers are everywhere, because these scams work. Reporting the crime can assist law enforcement and help prevent future victims of the same scam.
Report the scam: Contact local law enforcement. Make a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission. File a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. Report the scam to the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. Contact the website where you found the ad.
But, don’t worry there are resources available to you and your family to assist in finding housing. The Navy Housing Service Center (HSC) at your current or receiving installation is available to answer your concerns. One of the free services offered by the HSC is home finding, which includes Navy approved listings of all kinds of housing. You can use the Housing Early Application Tool (HEAT) to begin the home finding process, no matter what kind of housing you and your family need.
This blog contains information and tips provided by various government agencies.
Federal Trade Commission – Consumer Information: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0079-rental-listing-scams
FBI – Consumer Alert: http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2009/july/housingscam_072909
Better Business Bureau: http://www.bbb.org/blog/2013/03/5-warning-signs-of-a-rental-scam/