Rental scams were the topic in a recent warning by the Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC), so we thought it would be a great time to cover some of the basics once again. Rental scams are serious business and we’ve seen quite a few here in San Antonio, some more sophisticated than others. Most of them work off the same basic premise, using rental listings placed on the internet, often at a price that’s much too good to be true. These listings attract potential tenants and then there is often some form of exchange of money for keys, but the keys never arrive. There are a handful of items that you can be on the lookout in order to avoid these types of scams and protect yourself and your money.
Grammar, language, and spelling. Not everyone is an English virtuoso, but like most scams, emails are often full of poor grammar, odd phrases that are the result of bad translations, and atrocious spelling. Scammers are getting more sophisticated though, so this isn’t always true…but it is a good sign that you might want to dig deeper.
Heartfelt sentiment. The person on the other end usually has a touching story about family or they’re a pastor or they just want to do something nice for someone. Any item that is tugging at your heartstrings a little too much is probably designed to do just that. By getting you emotionally involved, a scammer can play on your hope and optimism. While we know plenty of landlords that are good, honest, well-meaning people, the fact is, they are in the business of renting property for their profit. That doesn’t make them bad people, it just makes them good at business. Scammers love a feel good story and use them frequently, because it works.
Too good to be true. If the rental price for a house in The Dominion seems awfully low, it probably is. Scammers often pull properties off the internet and then list them below their value. The lower value attracts more people and gets them more chances at successful scamming someone out of their money. Combine the low price with the emotional heartstring factors mentioned above – “…we’re renting it out for so little because we believe that everyone deserves a chance, just like the one we got when we lost our home in the tornado that caused the mudslide that washed away our home and poor little Timmy…” and you can see how effective this can be.
Google the property. One of the best things you can do when you find a rental online and you think there might be something fishy – google the address. If you see the property coming up on several sites and the information is not matching up, you should raise the red flags. Also look for details like listing agent name, contact phone numbers, or emails. You want all these items to match up with the information you’re getting elsewhere. Google the name of the “landlord” or “agent” offering the property. Be careful though, many scammers use some pretty good tactics to hide their identity. From email spoofing to creating free email address (like Yahoo, Outlook, or Gmail) with an agent or owner’s name to sending very well crafted emails that look like the real deal (with headshots and logos and confidentiality disclaimers – we’ve seen some amazing ones), scammers try to make themselves look legit by mimicking the real thing.
Just fill out this form. If a landlord, owner, or agent sends you a typed out application in the body of an email (where they just type _____ to make a blank for you to fill out), run. Scammers are getting more sophisticated though, so some are using online applications – which are really just scam sites designed to take your credit card info when you pay the application fees. Also, you may have just given the scammer a whole list of personal data that they can use for identity theft. If it’s an online form, look at the address – does it look legit or is it igotyourmoney.thisiseasy.com?
Don’t send money out of state. There are few instances where sending a check out of state to someone you don’t know pays off. If the “landlord” is telling you they had to go out of town suddenly and you should just send the check to them there, you may want to think twice.
Work with an agent. Agents can help you find rentals and assist you with the application process. While not every rental ad you see online will be a scam, agents can often suss out what’s happening with a rental and if something is fishy, they can get to the bottom of it.
Whatever you do, if something isn’t sitting well with you, stop and ask questions. And if you think you’ve spotted a scam, let us know…we report all of them we find and try to shut them down as quick as possible so that no one gets trapped. Stay safe out there and good luck!
image courtesy of B Rosen