My brother was moving back to the area. He recently called me about a rental he found on Craigslist, that he and his wife were excited about. Unfortunately, I quickly saw it as just another of many rental scams on Craigslist.
The home my brother emailed me from Craiglist, was a beautiful 2600 sq ft Cape Cod style home built in the last 20 years and listed for $1400 a month. Market rent was more in the range of $2600.
While my brother and his wife fell in love with the rental home they saw in a Craigslists ad, their gut feeling was that it was too good to be true and had heard about rental scams on Craigslist. Consequently, I quickly confirmed that it was most likely ran across a rental scam.
Another victim of a Rental Scam On Craigslist
In the past, I have had Craiglist scammers stealing listing photos of a house I have had for sale online to use as a fake rental. This has happened many times over an 18+ year career as a listing agent.
Unfortunately, I am all too aware of rental scams on Craigslist. Classified sites like Craigslist and Kiiji are ripe for fraud. There is no policing of the ads. Scammers find it easy to create fraudulent ads.
One woman actually called me up threatening to sue me because she had turned over a deposit on a short sale I had listed for sale. Immediately, I explained to her in no way was it me. The scammer had stolen my listing photos and description and compiled it into a Craigslist ad.
Upon further conversation, she was never even shown the house, the price was way under market rent and the Craiglist scammer told her if she wanted it she needed to send the deposits by Western Union.
She was all too willing to do all of this because it was such a great deal and she was afraid to lose such a great opportunity.
So many red flags here!
She Is Not Alone In Being Scammed
The angry woman who thought I scammed her is not alone.
The survey sites that 5.2 million renters have lost money from rental fraud and if you are a renter online there is a 43% chance you have run into at least one fraudulent rental listing.
What Is A Craigslist Rental Scam?
Phantom rentals and hijacked ads are the two most common Craiglist rental scams. The property either doesn’t exist or the scammer does not own the property and has no right to rent it. In either case, they try to get you to send a deposit before you ever see the property.
But be wary of some of the other possible rental scams while doing your search for the perfect Massachusetts Rental Home.`
- Phantom Rentals: The scammer creates a fake Craigslist ad for a property that doesn’t exist.
- Hijacked Ads: A scammer steals a listing and makes it a fraudulent rental listing on Craigslist. Often they use homes that are for sale, listed by REALTOR®.
- Bait and Switch- Photos are used for a property that are not the unit being leased.
- Missing Amenities: Desirable amenities are listed that aren’t available for the unit.
- Showing a vacant property. Sometimes a scammer will show a vacant property they have broken into to actually show you the property, meet them as a “landlord” and collect a deposit.
- Occupied Home: The scammer will try to collect a deposit on a property that exists but is already occupied.
How Do You Spot Rental Scams On Craigslist?
There is no one way to identify if a house is a Craiglist’s rental scam.
Combine some of the factors I am going to spell out, and you may just have a scammer, trying to have you send deposits on a home that is not really for rent. So here is how to spot a scammer on Craigslist and their fake rental ad.
#1 There Are Typo’s And Grammatical Errors In The Rental Listing
Often the Craigslist scammer is from a different country. The simple fact is if you send the money to someone based overseas it will be impossible to prosecute and get your money back.
Beware, that while it is common for a rental scammer to be overseas it isn’t always the case. Sometimes the scam is from someone in the US.
The foreign scammer may have poor English skills, creating an ad with poor grammar and typos.
#2 Pay Attention To The Photos
There are several clues to look into with the photos to see if the listing is a Craiglist rental scam.
The Craiglist rental will often have one photo or none at all.
The photo(s) may also be of a style that doesn’t fit your part of the country. A sleek, European studio is not something you would typically see in the greater Boston rental market.
Rental scammers will run the same photo run 50-100 sites all over the world…. England, Sweden, Australia… all in hopes of a scammer reaching into a victim’s pocket with their fake Craigslist rental ad and other classified sites.
Tis one is a little trickier. The photos are potentially stolen from a current or recent home for sale. A potential scammer will steal an entire listing of a home for sale. They will copy all of the photos and the description as well. But they will never allow you in to view the home. If they even give you the real address it will be for a driveby only.
Before sending a deposit, it could be prudent to run a Google reverse image search on a few of the photos to see if the rentals photos are showing up elsewhere.
#3 The Price Is Too Good To Be True
This is what leads renters to have poor judgment regarding a fake Craigslist rental ad. The price for the property they are advertising is well below fair market value for a monthly rent.
On the rental listings I have seen that are scams, they are typically 50% of what a landlord could charge for the property.
The rental scammer plays on the emotion and even greed of an unsuspecting renter. They create a sense of urgency by underpricing their fake rental.
And, with many metropolitan markets having a rental shortage, renters don’t want to miss the opportunity of a good deal. But if a rental ad on Craigslist is too good to be true…. then it is propably a fake ad created by a scammer to get your deposit money.
#4 The Property Is Never Available To View
The scammer will ask you to do a drive-by if the listing has been hijacked from elsewhere. Or, if it is a phantom rental, urge you to send the deposits immediately to hold the home for you since there has been so much interest.
You will never get into the property. Either the property doesn’t exist or the scammer has no right to rent the property. There will always be some sort of story about why your appointment was canceled or why you can’t actually go into the property.
#5 You Will Never Meet The Landlord
They may say upfront they are overseas, deployed in the military are on a humanitarian mission, etc… For whatever reason, it will be impossible for the landlord to meet you at the property.
They may even string you along and cancel at the last minute. But they aren’t in this country and they have no intention of meeting you or showing you the rental.
#6 There Is Always A Story With A Craigslist Rental Scam
There is always a story that leads you to believe they are a good person and are trustworthy. But, that story always leads to why you can’t meet them or see the property.
Rental scammers are quite adept at playing with your emotions. They practice their craft daily. Don’t think you are not susceptible, proceed with caution.
#7 They Are Too Eager For Your To Send The Deposit
The goal of a rental scam is to part you from your money before having to actually produce a house for rent.
A rental scammer will create such urgency and you will be too scared of losing a great deal. They will ask for a deposit to hold the rental for you and you may just be willing to do it.
Be wary of a landlord that is eager to put his hands on your money before even seeing the unit.
You should never give a deposit on a rental you have never seen. Just don’t do it.
#8 There Is No Screening Process
Having no screening process is a huge red flag. Most landlords want to know who is living in their home. A proper rental screening includes pulling a credit score and asking questions about work history, salary and rental history.
Do not send money before a rental screening, it is quite possible you are part of a Craigslist rental scam. Do not give any personal information, like a social security number prior to any showing of the property.
#9 How Do They Want Their Money
If your future landlord tells you to send by Western Union, mail a Money Order, send a Moneygram, etc…., they are not on the up and up.
If a landlord can’t accept certified funds or a personal check in person, this is a huge red flag.
How To Avoid Being A Victim Of Rental Fraud on Craigslist
- See the property. This is huge. Everyone I have known, that has been a victim of a rental scam on Craigslist has never seen the property. Physically inspect the property inside and out.
- If the monthly rent is too good to be true, it is! This is how urgency is created and scammers get renters to make bad decisions. If the rent is a fraction of fair market, take some time and think about it.
- Don’t send money upfront. There is a process that most landlords go through before asking for a deposit. Never send money before seeing the unit, meeting the landlord and going through a rental screening process.
- Meet the landlord. Many rental listings are private listings. And, there is a process most landlords go through. The landlord should be showing you the property. If someone other than a landlord, a reputable real estate agent or reputable property manager is showing the property, get a darn good explanation.
- Do some research:
- Know who is signing the lease as the landlord.
- Check the local registry of deeds and double-check the owner of record.
- Google the address and see if the home is currently for sale or in foreclosure
- Do a reverse image search of some of the listing photos to see if they are being used elsewhere.
- Never send money. Sending money through Western Union, Moneygram or gift cards is sketchy. Once sent, there is no way to trace the money. Turn over a certified check in person.
- Landlord shows no interest. Most landlords want to know about who their new tenant is and will ask a lot of questions to see who you are as a person. Most landlords will also ask for references. If they skip these steps ask yourself ….why?
- Follow your gut. Again most people who have been part of a rental scam on Craigslist said they felt something was not right. Follow your instincts.
- Ask questions. If you’re not feeling something don’t be afraid to ask questions and get to the bottom of it.
- Use common sense. Mostly what I have said is common sense. Unfortunately, the rental market is competitive and emotions can run high. That is what a scammer wants, a slip in your judgment because you are feeling urgency or even desperation.
- Talk to other tenants. Maybe you can make a point to talk to the tenants in the parking lot or even neighbors if it is a single family home.
Don’t Get Played By A Massachusetts Fraudulent Rental Ad
There are several things in common when it comes to being a victim of a rental scam in Massachusetts.
Competition among renters is fierce. Many rental units in Massachusetts get dozens of applications from potential renters. It is easy for emotions to get high and for renters to even feel desperate.
Good judgment just goes out the window. It is easy to see the signs of a rental scam on Craigslist here, and say boy I would never do that. Yet it happens every day!
Ignoring red flags of a rental scam is easy when you are rushing and emotions are running high.
Step back and slow it down before signing a lease and sending a deposit check if there are some red flags and it isn’t feeling right. Don’t lose your hard-earned money to a rental scam on Craigslist.
Other Real Estate Resources:
- Rental scams aren’t the only real estate scam you need to watch out for. Paul Sian covers how an investor can be scammed while purchasing an investment property.
- An unoccupied house could be the target of a real estate scam. Kyle Hiscock gives us some great tips to keep your house safe while you are away.
- There may be a time and place to use a house flipping company to unload your house. Bill Gassett covers the pro and cons of using a house flipping company.
- Cybersecurity can be critical during any real estate transaction. Learn how to keep your data safe during a real estate transaction.
Rental Scam On Craigslist and 9 Ways to Spot One, is provided by Kevin Vitali. If you are looking to buy sell or rent a home call Kevin at 978-360-0422.