We are a property management company managing approximately 450 homes across the Eastern Panhandle of WV and Northern Virginia regions. We have noticed a severe uptick in online rental scams.
The two sites that the scammers like to exploit the most are Craigslist and Facebook. Those sites do not verify the information and do not charge fees to market. Whether you have just started looking for a new home or have been on a “hunt” for a while, here are a few triggers or markers to look out for when searching for homes online:
1.The homes are generally extremely underpriced. If it looks or sounds too good to be true, we assure you – it is. Many of our own listings have been taken, duplicated and altered to seem quite legitimate. Because it can be difficult to enforce copyrights online, the scammers simply take the photos and property description information and plug in their contact information. We have seen our listings being priced as much as 50% lower than their true price.
2.When you inquire about such a listing, the responder will give you a variation of the following story:
“I am John Smith and I live in Switzerland. I am unable to show you the property in person or provide access into the home for a viewing. Please disregard the sign and the lockbox at the house as I have recently fired my property manager and they have not removed their stuff yet. You are welcome to drive by and let me know if you are interested in applying.”
They will then go into their application “requirements” such as: a nice, quiet family, clean, with XXX credit and XXX income. Somewhere in their response they will say something along the lines of “please wire/western union me the security deposit and I will mail you the keys.”
3.Majority of these scammers will ask you to use a service such as Western Union for sending them the funds. Once the funds have been picked up on their end you cannot track and/or retrieve it.
4.All communication with the scammer usually has many grammatical errors. English is often not their first language.
5.If they happen to provide a phone number, they will prefer texting and will make many excuses as to why they cannot make a call.
6.If you press for more information, a proper showing of the home, a proper phone call, etc. the scammers generally become irate and keep reiterating that if you just send them the security deposit they will provide you with everything you need.
These are just some examples of what you might see out there.
A Property Management Company will never ask you to:
1.Wire any funds prior to a proper application and approval process. Most PM companies and even somewhat experienced private landlords will require certified funds such as cashier checks and/or money orders.
2.Rent a house without seeing the inside.
3.Use only one form of communication. There is always a preferred method for individual agents, but email addresses, phone numbers, company and broker information (if applicable) will be readily available.
It is always disappointing when you find out that a home you were very interested in may not be available or is outside of your price range, however, it is utterly devastating when you are several hundred (if not thousands) of dollars out without the ability to trace the criminal and hold them liable.