Talk about getting taken to the cleaners: Imagine you spot a great summer rental property advertised online. Looks wonderful. The deal sounds too good to be true, but the owner tells you (via e-mail or even phone) that the fee is correct. You apply for the rent and send in the required upfront payment.
Then you head down there for the first time to see an empty lot. It then dawns on you that the owner was really a crook who used some photo he found online and advertised it for rent. And if losing your money isn’t bad enough, the thief now has other private information on you like your Social Security number.
How can you protect yourself if the property is too far away to check out in person? Limit yourself to only local rental properties that you can actually physically check out first? Whether or not you can do that, here are safeguards:
- Copy and paste the rental description into a search engine. If it shows up elsewhere consider it a scam. However…a smart crook will alter the wording so that this doesn’t happen!
- Google the listed address and see if it matches up. Google any other information connected with the ad, such as the landlord’s name.
- If you locate the property on another site that lists it for sale, the rental ad is a scam.
- Request a copy of the owner’s driver’s license to verify property records at your county assessor’s office.
- If you can’t physically visit the property, use an online map to get a full view, including aerial, to make sure it actually exists. But this doesn’t rule out scam. The property may exist alright, but the ad you’re interested in was not placed by the owner, who’s either not renting at all or might be selling the place.
- Conduct all communication by phone.
- Never wire transfer an upfront payment or pay via prepaid debit card—two red flags for a scam. Pay via credit card.
Honest landlords can be scammed, too. They should search the information of responders to their ads to see what comes up.