How to Avoid Rental Scams
Unfortunately, there are people out there that are scamming rental listings, renters, agents and landlords. This is something to be aware of for both renters and landlords, as it is getting more common. Yes, rental scams exists in Palestine, Texas! I just caught one of my listings being used as a scam listing last week. In my case, the scammer took my photos from a house that is for sale in Palestine and posted it as a rental in Palestine for a ridiculously low price. (The home was listed for rent at $550/month. The home is not for rent, it is only for sale. However, if it were for rent, it would be over $1000/month easily.) I was able to get the fake scam listings removed because I saw it quickly and I hope that I was able to have it blocked before anyone was scammed! Sites like zillow, trulia and craigslist are great ways to find your next rental, but use common sense when searching for a rental. Use some of these tips to avoid a rental scam:
Tips For Renters:
1. BAD PICS OR WATERMARKED PICS- Watch out for listings where all the photos are extremely blurry or pixelated images. This is often a sign that they have swiped the photos from a legitimate source. If the pics have a watermark (especially from an MLS or from a real estate agent and the contact info does not match up to that agent…it’s 99.99% a scam)
2. ABSENTEE OWNER – Any listing that says anything about them being out of the country for any reason (mission trips, peace corps, etc) should be a red flag. They will use God, mission trips and peace corp service as ways to gain your confidence and make you believe they are a good person. Don’t fall for it. I’ve never known a legit landlord or agent who was out of the country and was still attempting to rent their home without a local presence.
3. KEYS – They can’t meet you at the property? They don’t have the keys right now? Yeah, no. Never rent something if you can’t get inside to take a look. If they don’t have keys or access to the house, how will you get access once you have possession of the property if you rent it? This is a huge alert, don’t ignore it! It is always better to rent in person, if possible. Of course, there are times when this is unavoidable and I have had many tenants that have rented without previewing the property first. However, make sure the person you are dealing with is reputable and does not put up some of the other red flags!
4. TOO CHEAP – The biggest red flag is typically the price. If it’s a 3,000 square foot house with granite countertops and all the bells and whistles advertised for $500/monthly rent, there is a problem. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
5. FOR SALE TOO – The house is also listed for sale with an agent, but the rental advertisement is not the same contact info as the real estate agent’s listing. Big red flag. No agent would take a listing that was for rent by another source.
6. STRANGE EMAILS – If you are in email correspondence with the “landlord” and the email starts out with “Dear Sir / Madam,” the english is generally very poor, strange capitalization, unclear contact info, sketchy reasons for being unable to meet in person, or reasons for why their ad doesn’t match up with other ads…it’s a scam.
7. WIRED FUNDS – If they ask you to wire funds to an offshore account, or they tell you they will send you a money order and you will cash it for them and reimburse them the difference, or anything else that feels remotely shady….Run! it’s a scam! A true rental will have lease paperwork to sign at the same time as collecting the deposit.
8. DRIVE BY – Take a drive by the house. When you drive by, is the sign in the yard the same contact info that was on the ad? If you are unsure, call the REALTOR’s # off the sign in the yard and tell them you are calling to verify the rental ad you saw on this property. He/she will tell you fast if it is legit! The scammers will try to fool you to disregard the sign in the yard for whatever reason (the agent hasn’t picked up sign yet, the agent was fired, etc). Always check. The odds are if there is a REALTOR’s sign in the yard, the house is listed for sale.
Tips For Landlords:
1. Keep an eye out on local rental listings to make sure yours is the only one that is posted for your property.
2. If you catch a spammer, report it to the site immediately–don’t just flag it, call/email/smoke signal to the website it is posted on so it will be removed quickly. The websites take spammers seriously and will get it removed.
3. If you receive emails or calls for a potential renter with the same type of strange emails with offers to wire payments or mail money orders with a partial reimbursement–it is a scam!
The bottom line in avoiding a scam is to use common sense. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Are there great rental deals out there? Absolutely. However, it pays to do a little homework to make sure you are dealing with the actual owner and not some email con-artist from Nigeria. I would like to note that I have not heard of any of these types of scams run by locals in Palestine, they are all perpetrated by people that have probably never even stepped foot onto our lovely East Texas soil. Be aware out there.