With the prime rental season in full swing, the number of fraudulent or "scam" rental advertisements have increased. It has been determined by researchers that 40%-47% of Craigslist advertisements are false advertisements used take money or personal information from prospective renters. This causes a problem for reputable property managers and prospective renters for 2 main reasons. First Property managers have to spend the time answering questions about false advertisements; and second the renter has to be extra diligent on verifying all advertised information.
The scammers copy photos and details from legitimate advertisements, then they create the fraudulent advertisement with different, lower pricing and different contact information. As the renter inquiries about the property, they are met with demands for a completed applications, application fees, credit card numbers, or deposits prior to scheduling a showing of the property. For the unknowing prospective renter, they could be providing a large amount of money or personal information, but not realize they have been scammed until it is too late.
All prospective renters must be mindful when searching for a rental on Craigslist to avoid becoming a victim of a rental scam. When looking at rental advertisements, the following information is helpful in determining if it is a fraudulent advertisement:
1. It sounds too good to be true. The rent and deposit are well below market value for the area, all utilities are paid by the landlord, and has every amenity imaginable that is included in the rent. Fraudulent listings are meant to appeal to as many people as possible to increase the chances of a prospective renter falling victim to the scam.
2. Vague screening criteria. Bad credit, a criminal record, or Evictions are no problem, are common in fraudulent listings. These details are meant to prey on the prospective renters who have been denied multiple times from other property managers.
3. No address or details of the location of the property. Since most scammers are not located anywhere near the area the prospective renters are looking, they are unable to provide the general location of the property. They will also not provide an actual address, so the scammer does not try to go to the property without the scammer knowing. The scammer uses the excuse of having a policy to not release the address, as they have had issues with vandalism, or people harassing the current tenants.
4. Usually requires personal information, application, deposits, or money prior to scheduling a showing. The scammer says they have to run the application or collect the deposit to assure that the prospective renter is actually interested in the property. At times, they will have them click on a link where it re-directs them to an "online application." The prospective renters do not have to pay an application fee, but they do have to provide all their personal information such as a social security number or banking information.
To help avoid fraudulent advertisements, it is common for property managers to watermark all of their photos they use for advertising. Things such as logos, website addresses, or company names are watermarked onto the photos, so if scammers use them for an advertisement, it is easier for prospective renters to verify with the actual property management companies. It is also highly suggested for prospective renters go directly through legitimate property managers, so they are getting accurate information for a property that is truly available to rent. As it is unfortunate that people fall victim to these scams, it's even more important for prospective renters to do their research, and to be mindful about the ways scammers use to get money or personal information.
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