When we started searching for a rental home, our first instinct was to head to Craigslist. We found a wide range of homes listed for rent on the site. But we also found some big, fat scams. Most you can smell from a mile away, but others are a little trickier to sort out. Here’s what to look for.
Too Good to Be True
You see a rental listed in your price range. You click the link and it looks gorgeously. It should easily cost twice what they’re asking for rent. When you see those ads, run away! If what you get for the rent sounds too good to be true, you’re probably right.
To avoid these scams, you need to know the average cost for rent in your area. Once you have an idea of what you can get for your money, you can easily spot these scams and avoid them at all costs.
Another scam I saw was a home that was either for sale or for rent through a property management company used in a different ad. The new ad looked legit, but was a few hundred dollars cheaper for rent. The rent cost wasn’t so low that it was completely unbelievable, and I may have fallen for it had I not seen the ad from the property management company already.
If you see a house listed by a property management company and later from someone else for a lower price, call the property management company directly. Not only do you find out for sure if the ad is a scam, you also let the property management company know about the bogus ads.
Give Me Money First
A scammer may try to get your money before you even see the rental unit. He might use the excuse that he needs the money to hold the unit since it is so popular. Never send money when you haven’t seen the unit yourself or met the person who placed the ad. You risk never seeing that money again and losing out on the great rental you thought you secured.
Fuzzy on the Details
Does the “landlord” avoid your questions? Does he avoid giving out the exact address of the house? Does he not have any inside photos of the property? These are all potential signs of a scam. Someone who actually wants to rent out a property should go above and beyond to give you the details you want. Also be suspicious if the “landlord” only wants to communicate via email. Ask for a phone number so you can talk about the property.
Don’t let the scams on Craigslist scare you off from finding your next rental. If you take your time and do your research, you can protect yourself during the transaction. Here’s what to do:
- Follow your gut. Does the situation seem shady? Do you get an icky feeling about the landlord? Listen to yourself. We walked away from the first rental we wanted because of an unsettling feeling we got from the landlord and his assistant.
- Compare pricing. Does the rental match local rates? If not, proceed with caution.
- Drive by the rental. If you have the address, scope out the place. Does it have a For Rent sign out front? If so, call the number on the sign to make sure it’s the same person you’re dealing with through Craigslist.
- Check the names. Look up the property through your local assessor’s website. Does the name on the property match the name of the person you’re talking to? If so, ask to see an ID to verify that it really is that person. If not, dig deeper to find out why they don’t match.
- Follow up if the person claims to be the property manager and not the owner. For example, sometimes real estate agents manage rental properties for the owner. Check out the agent through her real estate company to see if she is legit.
- Hold your money. Wait until you’ve seen the property inside and out. Make sure you feel completely comfortable with the situation. Don’t use wire transfer services, as that is often a sign of a scam.