Avoid Wicked Home Rental Scams!

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Whether you're looking for a vacation home for a trip you're taking or are trying to find a nice house or apartment for you and your family, shopping around for a rental can be a time-consuming process.  Checking online listings on sites like Craigslist can make it a lot easier to find a rental that meets your needs, letting you see what's available from the comfort of home.

Unfortunately, as usually seems to be the case there are thieves and liars who want to make a quick buck off of the misfortune of others.  By posting fake ads these scammers prey on ordinary people who are just looking for a place to rent.

Many of these fake ads are based on real rental properties and may even include pictures of the property to make the scam seem more legitimate.  The scammers copy ads that they've seen online, saving any pictures included with the ads for later use.  They'll post the ads online, informing potential tenants that they're out of town or live elsewhere when contacted and that deposits or other money must be sent via Western Union or other money transfer services.  Once it's clear that the person who ran the ad doesn't own the property it's usually too late and they've already moved on to their next victim.

This is particularly prominent with vacation rentals due to the fact that most vacationers can't view the property directly before renting it. Esti and Ryan Brooks fell victim to a scam like this in Miami Beach, FL where they'd been trying to rent a house to have their wedding in.  They sent a friend to look at the house and when it seemed legitimate they wired $6300 to the property manager, only to find out later that the man who listed the house had no actual connection to the property.  They didn't find out that it was a scam until they showed up in Miami Beach a few days before the wedding and the supposed property manager suddenly stopped returning their calls.

Scams like these can be damaging to landlords, too.  People like Evelyn Schaffer of Albany, New York who had an apartment that her family owned listed as being for rent by a scammer.  People showed up to look at the apartment despite it having been rented months before, expecting to see something that was significantly different than the actual apartment.  Though Schaffer was able to discover the scam before the scammer "rented" the apartment to someone, not every landlord is so lucky.  Some landlords have to deal with irate or otherwise upset scam victims, some of whom may even assume that the landlord had something to do with the deception.

Unfortunately, nobody's immune to being scammed.  Nobody. Even Seth Kugel, a writer for the New York Times whose blog focuses on frugal living and getting a good deal, fell victim to a rental scam in London's Notting Hill neighborhood.  He went on to write about his experiences, describing how he had lost $600 with no arrests made in the case so that others might avoid the same fate.This doesn't mean that you have to avoid online searches when looking for a rental, of course.  There are a lot of legitimate rental properties on Craigslist and other sites, and you can find them as long as you know what you're looking for.
• Avoid any listings that say you'll need to send money using Western Union or other wire transfer services, since these are almost always scams.
• If there's a property company listed, research it online to make sure it's legitimate and that it has favorable reviews.

• If the property's too far away for you to visit in person, use Google Street View, Google Earth or other map services to make sure that the house is located where the ad says it is and that it looks like it's supposed to look.
• Do your homework and be vigilant to keep yourself from being a scammer's next victim.

• If you fall victim to a scam don't feel alone. Do report fraud incidents to the appropriate local, state or federal law enforcement and regulatory authorities.  Internet complaints can be easily reported to The Internet Crime Complaint Center.  (IC3) is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) .

• Stay informed and up-to-date on today' many scams and ID theft trends that continue to threaten your financial security and peace of mind.

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Rental scams are certainly on the rise, and as you mention both renters and homeowners are being victimized.

I recently launched a business, CheckYourLandlord.com, to help renters avoid scams, as well as giving them resources to assess the financial health of their landlord to help them avoid foreclosures or issues such as poor maintenance.

Our mission is to protect renters - so often renters feel powerless against landlords.

Please visit us at www.checkyourlandlord.com.

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