During the summer months, we typically will see an increase in rental property fraud. The demand for a summer rental property is high. With this in mind, there are many con-artists out there looking to take advantage of unsuspecting citizens. The most common fraud occurs on Craigslist or any online advertisement for rental properties.

The scam

There are many legitimate properties listed for rent with genuine photographs.

The fraud typically occurs when the con-artist obtains the real information of the owner/property manager. The fraudulent advertisements can include misappropriated photographs from the genuine listings. Using the pictures obtained online, the con-artist will create a new advertisement with his/her phone number or email address, but will pose as the owner/property manager.

In many cases, they will use the owner/property manager’s real name. This way, if you have the urge to check with a neighbor to see if the owner/property manager is real, the neighbor will usually confirm the name.

Due to the high demand and “rush to rent,” the con-artist will ask for the first/last month rent or deposit in cash or with a prepaid card. This is done quickly, “to increase the chances” of securing the rental property.

The con-artist will create a sense of urgency, forcing the victim to make a quick decision. The more sophisticated con-artists will even have a fraudulent contract in hand.

Once the funds are exchanged, the con-artist will disappear with money that is almost impossible to track. The email address and the (prepaid/pay as you go) cell phone number are usually abandoned.

Abandoned or foreclosed property

Abandoned or foreclosed properties will be used as well.

Since these properties are not maintained, con-artists will often times force entry and even change the locks. So when the victim meets with the con-artist, they will have the keys to the front door and probably a contract in hand.

With bank-owned properties, the fraud can continue for years.

Red flags

  • Payment requested before meeting the owner/property manager or viewing the property.
  • Payments requested in cash, wired electronically, money order, Green Dot, MoneyGram, Western Union or any prepaid card.
  • Monthly rent is too good to be true.
  • The owner/property manager is very eager to rent to you, without an employment, background or credit check.
  • A long distance owner/property manager. Sometimes claiming to be out of state or even out of the country.
  • Email communication contains bad grammar and typos.

Ways to protect yourself

  1. The golden rule (of fraud): if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
  2. Meet the owner/property manager at the property and have them show you around. Although a con-artist can force entry and change the locks, this will expose/eliminate a significant percentage of the less sophisticated con-artists.
  3. Ask for the owner/property manager’s contact information, including physical address. Do an online search of the owner/property manager.
  4. Research what the “going rate” is for rental properties in the immediate area.
  5. Keep all contracts, documents and receipts for payments. Start the “paper trail.”
  6. Ask more questions! Think down the road, who can be contacted for after hours/emergency situations? Who pays the gas, electric or water bill? Ask what the process is when something needs to be fixed.
  7. Get a receipt for every payment.

For additional information, visit the Federal Trade Commission Complaint Assistant.

The article above was released by the Huntington Beach Police Department.