Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Scam Analysis: The Fake Rental Scam

Fake Rental Scam happens frequently. With free listing service like Craigslist, but also other rental sites, it's proliferating like mad, as it costs virtually nothing to perpetrate, and yields quite a bit of money at a time. It was estimated that 12% of all rental listings on Craigslist are probably fake. And with COVID-19 running around, it's getting WORSE!  

What's even stranger, you can be victimized even if you're not renting!

I will detail three variations of rental scams, how they work, and how you can spot and avoid them. 

First variation of the Scam:

A1) A is looking for a place to rent, found a listing by B (on Craigslist or similar place). Prices are below market, and it seems to be a VERY nice place.

A2) A contacts B, who claims to be out of town. B will probably cite a sob story about how previous tenant broke the place and it was a hassle to fix, and he is trusting A to be a good tenant. Now, if A will send the deposit via (untraceable) means like Western Union, Paypal, Venmo, Cash App, and so on, B will send the keys via courier, or even "left with a neighbor". There is a discount if A chooses to prepay the rent in advance instead of month to month. A sent the money.

Generally, B was never heard from again. Though sometimes, for lulz, they will claim the "the old tenant needs a few extra days". 

Turns out, the photos are real, but the place is not for rent. It was cloned from a real estate 'for sale' listing.

Some really blatant scammers will tell A to "go peek through the window", leading to police calls about a prowler or worse. 

This variation is often perpetrated by foreign scammers who know just enough English to clone listings and conduct rudimentary email and maybe text convos, but will probably not talk to you live (but some may). Mistakes can be blamed on autocorrect. Their reply often contains a sob story (previous tenant trashed their place), a lot of virtue signaling (they're doing missionary work in X, they are traveling salesperson, they are in the military, etc.) about why they can't meet you, but you should trust them and send them money anyway. They may even fake a "credit check" (to steal your identity).  But there is no house to rent. They take your money and disappear.

RECOMMENDATION: NEVER rent from someone out of town, EVEN IF they are using a "local" area code phone number (those are easy to get with VOIP). 

WARNING: Do NOT accept even if they claim to have a "relative" or "friend" in town to meet with you. It could be just another scammer. Also see second variation below. 

But wait, there's more!

Second variation:

B1) A is looking for a place to rent, found a listing on Craigslist or similar place. Prices are below market value, and it seems to be a VERY nice place.

B2) A contacts B, who meets A at the property. B unlocked and showed the place around. The place is great, and the B said he'll take another X% off if A can pay Y months in advance. A paid B and got a signed lease agreement and keys to the place.

A few weeks after moving in (or even at move-in day), A got a knock at the door... The REAL landlord showed up with police... A was evicted as he can't prove he's not squatting in the place and the "contract" he "signed" was fake. He lost several months of rent plus expenses in moving and more.  B is nowhere to be found.

Turns out, the property was unoccupied (for sale, vacation, and so on). Perp B broken in, changed the locks, and pretended to be the landlord.  (Or B was cleaning crew, or B stole the keys...)

This variation is often committed by local perps who may travel among a few cities where s/he has relatives or friends, and may live in the neighborhood and thus spotted the property sitting unused. 

RECOMMENDATION: Spotting this type is more difficult. Research the address and attempt to contact the owner, reverse image search the photos to make sure it's not cloned, and attempt to verify ID of the person you meet and whether this person is actually an authorized representative.

Do NOT accept business cards at face value. Business cards can be printed and is cheap, and unless they have a photo on them, they can be taken off a real person's desk or such. Real estate management company reps are frequently impersonated for something like this. 


Third variation:

C1) A is looking for a place to rent, found a listing on Craigslist or similar place. Prices are below market value, and it seems to be a VERY nice place.

C2) A contacts B, who asks A to fill out a "background check" at a legit-sounding domain and pay a fee.  B assures A that should they sign the lease, the cost will be deducted. So A paid the fee, filled out the questions, and waited. 

B was never heard from again. Phone disconnected, email bounced, etc. 

Turns out, there never was an available rental. B was either a shill for the background check place and gets a kickback for every person s/he can convince to pay the fee... or B used the bait of a rental to get A enter all his info into a phishing website

RECOMMENDATION: if landlord specified that you must use a particular service, run away. It is usually landlord's OWN responsibility to run a background check on tenants.  


So you ask, wait, didn't you say you can be victimized even without renting? 

Yep. Glad you asked. A single mom, who allowed her bank account to be used by her "online date" to launder rental scam money, was given extra time by the court to come up with reparations. 


Do you know any other rental scam variations? Let the skeptic know in the comments below. 

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