Last Saturday I was on duty at our CENTURY 21 Bill Nye Realty offices in Zephyrhills, Florida. While there I received a call from a lady who had spoken with one of our agents about a home that had been listed for sale recently. It turned out that the home was no longer for sale, but this caller told me she had seen a picture of the SAME home advertised for RENT on Craig's List. It was being "offered" by a Rev. Gabriel Kingston from outside of the United States.
According to this lady, she had e-mailed Rev. Kingston about the home and he said he could not get a key so she could see the inside, but that she should drive by and look in the windows. If she was interested she could wire him several hundreds of dollars via Wells Fargo, or some similar service. And at that point he would send her the key. Do you smell a rat? I think I do!
Can you see where this is going? Do you think a key is going to appear once this person gets the lady's money? Of course not.
I spoke with our in-house rental agent, Tammy Wright and she had the following advice and thoughts, highlighted in yellow, on this topic:
HOME RENTAL SCAMS ARE CONTINUING TO TARGET CONSUMERS.
Rental scams are on the upward swing because of the downward spiral of the housing market. Criminals are taking great advantage, and the consumer needs to be more aware. Their main objective is to obtain an unsuspecting renter’s funds. The Craig’s List rental scam is one prevalent example, making criminals posing as Nigerian ministers a lot of money. These fraudulent entrepreneurs are copying Realtor and property owner’s listing information from other advertising sites with photos, and placing it on Craig’s List with their contact information. They lure prospective tenants’ in with low monthly rent, and no credit checks. Often, they apply the softer touch, wanting to be sure that you will take good care of their property while they are in Nigeria, for missionary purposes.
Here are a few good tips so that you can avoid being a victim of this type of real estate fraud:
- If you are not using a Realtor, or Licensed Property Manager, verify the owner of the property using the internet sites available.
- Never send funds without viewing the inside of the property. (These tricksters are likely to tell you to just drive by.)
- Never give out personal information such as social security numbers, bank account numbers, or credit card numbers via email or over the phone. (A Realtor or Property Manager will have you submit a signed application.
- Be suspicious of ads that list only email addresses for contact purposes.
- By Florida Law, any ad placed by a licensed Real Estate Agent must include the agent’s last name and Brokerage/Company name.
Be cautious of any ads that seem suspect, have low rental rates for the area, or seem too good to be true. They often are.
Now a few more thoughts from me that you should keep in mind when looking for rentals, or even homes to buy for that matter:
- Why would a true landlord not have a key to let you in to see a home? Even an owner who was out of the country would have a neighbor or a professional rental agent who could let you in.
- Why would you rent a home without seeing the interior? Would you buy a car if the owner said, pay me for the car, THEN I will give you the keys so you can try driving it?
- Would you mail cash (and that is what a money order or wire transfer is) to a perfect stranger with no guarantee you will ever see them, the house, or your money again?
- The pictures of the properties you are seeing on the advertising sites were probably pulled from other internet sites. Most of you know how easy it is to copy pictures and that is what these thieves are doing.
- If the person gives you a name for a home at an address, it is very easy to check with the county tax appraiser to see who the real owner of the home is. You can do this by going to my website at: www.jelwell.century21bnr.com and click on the County Property Appraiser button. If all else fails, the appraiser's number is in the phone book. Call and ask who owns the property, or go in person. Protecting your money is worth an hour of your time. If Mr. X wants you to send him $500 but the appraiser says that Ms. Z owns the home, you have an alarm going off. Be careful!
- Keep in mind that these crooks are preying on people who may have poor credit, low income, or some other factor that would make it hard for them to find a rental property through normal routes. If the price sounds too low for the property, or the landlord is happy to have your three pot-belly pigs in the house, watch out. Some investigating is in order.
- If you use Craig's List, please read the warnings that are posted on their rental pages. They go out of their way to warn prospective renters. Many of them will be similar to what we have listed above. Remember you are dealing with people you do not know. If I tried to get you to rent a home of mine over the phone you would refuse. The difference here is that you can see pictures and communicate via e-mail and that makes things seem more legitimate.
- If you cannot deal with a real person face-to-face, I would not get involved with the deal. A private landlord will be willing to meet you and show you the home.
- Keep in mind that there are many, many free advertising sites out there that these criminals could be using. So do not think that you will only find this on Craig's List. It is just one of the best known advertising sites. In my opinion it is a good site, but you need to always use common sense.
One last thought, you may want to consider working with professional property managers. Then you can be sure they are licensed, local, have a real office you can go to, and can be checked out with the Better Business Bureau and the State of Florida.
I would certainly be happy to refer you to our property manager here at CENTURY 21 Bill Nye Realty, Inc. Just call me at: 813-783-4444 or e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org , and I will make sure that she contacts you.
John Elwell - REALTOR
Bill Nye Realty, Inc.
Licensed in Florida