A friend of mine was recently the target of a rental scam that has taken a lot of cash from a lot of people. She found an ad for an unbelievable deal on a house in a great neighborhood. Not only was this place going for less than half of what you’d expect a home in that neighborhood to go for monthly, it included all utilities. The person offering the house for rent wrote back immediately. He said the rent was so low because he wanted to find a good person to take care of the house. He would be unable to show the house because he’d been forced to move out of state for work and he’d be hard-pressed to back to show the home because his father had recently passed away and he was very busy.
He told his prospective tenant that she could stop by the place and look in the windows and inspect the yard. But to ignore the for-sale sign in the yard because he changed his mind about selling. He also attached two forms for her to fill out. Both of which could be turned in by simply taking a picture of them with her phone. Since she doesn’t have a printer in the house, she asked if I could print them for her and forwarded the message to me.
A standard looking rental application.
And this bizarre homeowners association questionnaire that calls for a passport photo.
I’m naturally suspicious, anyway. I write about tech scams weekly and make up crimes for mystery novels in my spare time. So, this poorly worded form that asks the same questions twice and gives you a choice of how much to put down certainly perked up my ears.
Also, the utilities this guy was promising to include would probably run $500 a month. So, I Googled the address. Turns out the home was for sale and marked pending. I called up the real estate company and spoke to the broker. Not only was the house not for rent, but a sale was also pending to a new owner. The real estate agent told me this had happened before to other properties the company had listed. Crooks, probably not even in the country, scan for photos of houses that are empty, and put them up for rent at ridiculously low prices. Then they have prospective tenants send them the money(usually via an online transfer).
Then what happens? Well, nothing. The renter shows up at the house on the alleged moving day to find there’s no landlord there with the keys. Often times they discover that other people have already moved into the home. Many times these people rent the same home to several people. The real estate agent I spoke with told me there had been many cases of people showing up with a moving van and all their belongings only to find out there was no house to rent. She also told me that recently an elderly woman had been scammed out of all the money she had saved up to rent a place.
A lot of the time, these criminals aren’t even in the U.S., so there’s no way to even attempt to get your money back. The adage about if something seems too good to be true certainly applies here. Renting site unseen is never a good idea, but if you must, work with a real estate broker. There may be fees, but it’s cheaper than losing all of your moving money.