|Commonalities of a Rental Property Scam:
1. Usually contains poor grammar and misspellings.
2. Usually mentions God, cashiers check, money orders, wire transfer, Western Union, doctor, reverend, Nigeria, or the UK.
3. Landlord wants you to wire money to them. Typically to a bank not located in the same city as the rental property.
4. Landlord's email typically comes from a free email provider such as Yahoo, Hotmail, or Gmail.
5. References another person or agent. Especially in the case of a wire transfer, the name on their bank account will differ from the person posing as the landlord.
6. Tenant Scam - willing to send money without viewing your property.
7. Landlord Scam - wants you to send money without viewing inside of property.
8. Will not accept credit card payment.
9. Can not show you the inside of the rental property before you send money.
10. Name in the real estate county records does not match the name of the landlord claiming to own the property.
11. Price is too good to be true.
12. Does not have a phone number that you can call. In cases where the scammer does have a U.S. based phone number, be sure to check the area code to be sure it is located in or around the city of the rental property.
If you see a combination of the commonalities listed above or are skeptical because of a deal too good to be true, either find another landlord or management company to rent from who can show you the inside of the property or pay the landlord using an escrow account such as with Escrow.com. Another alternative is to use PayPal.com using your credit card. Never send money via a wire transfer, Money Gram, cashier's check or through Western Union unless you have rented from the landlord before and are certain the transaction is not a scam. If it turns out to be a scam, you can not get your money back. Instead, use Escrow.com or PayPal.com using your credit card. Credit cards offer fraud protection and will refund your money in the case of a scam. If you have a PayPal account and the landlord will not accept escrow, express your concerns with the landlord and tell the landlord you will make the first payment to them using PayPal.com. Just be sure to make payment using your credit card when using PayPal.com.
Typical Rental Property "Landlord" Scam:
The ad and email reply seem honest and possible the owner/landlord has left town on a mission trip and is looking to rent their home. When the potential tenant asks to view the house, the owner says he has the keys with him in a foreign country (usually Africa) and asks that the deposit and rent be sent to him via Western Union or wire transfer before he'll mail the keys.
Not that not all rental property scams involve a fake mission trip. Many Nigerian based scammers simply pose as local landlords. Some have even gone as far as getting a US based phone number that you can call. Always ask to view the inside of the property before you have paid anything. If you are not located near the rental property, such as in the case of a vacation rental, always pay with a credit card.
The scammers, generally based in Nigeria/West Africa, copy real ads and real photos of actual rental properties or homes in attractive neighborhoods and pretend to be local owners. They significantly lower the prices and post them on other websites, replacing the owner's contact information with their own.
Many times, the actual homeowners are unaware their home is being used to commit fraud.
To avoid being ripped-off, always view the inside of the rental home before paying anything. If the owner/landlord/management company is not capable of showing you the inside of the rental home, look elsewhere or pay with a credit card.
In situations where you can not view the inside of the property because you are not located in the city of the rental, be sure to make payment using a credit card. Never send money via wire, cashier's check, Money Gram or Western Union. Only a credit card has fraud protection. If the landlord can not accept a credit card, you can also use PayPal.com to make payment using your credit card. If the landlord will not accept PayPal, look elsewhere. Don't risk the chance of being taken in a scam.
Typical Rental Property "Tenant" Scam:
Tenants can also be scammers. Landlords need to be on the lookout for the following popular tenant scam. It begins by the tenant finding a rental property on popular classified ad websites. The scammer will usually contact the landlord by email. These emails usually have poor spelling and grammar and come from a free email account such as Yahoo, Hotmail or Gmail. These emails usually come from scammers claiming to be doctors or reverends.
The landlord replies with information about the property. The tenant usually says they are out of the country and would like to rent the property, sight unseen. They send a fake certified cashier's check or money order. The cashiers check or money order is for an amount much greater than the deposit and first month's rent. The scammer says they made a mistake and asks the landlord to send the overpayment back to them. It usually takes several days for a bank to recognize a cashiers check or money order as being fake.
The unsuspecting landlord thinks the money is already in their bank account so they have no problem wiring the excess money, usually $1,000 to $2,000. The scammer receives the funds and the landlord receives a call from their bank that the cashiers check or money order was fake. The scam is now complete and the landlord has just lost a large amount of money.