If you're searching online for a rental property, beware of what you may encounter. Identity thieves are always looking for savvy ways to trick people.
The fake rental listings scam that occurs on Craigslist was recently revisited by Rhode Island authorities after a reporter was almost scammed into a rental agreement turned out to be a scam.
According to the Herald News, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin recently warned the public that scam artists are putting up fake rental listings on Craigslist with the intent to commit identity fraud.
“Scam artists are posting fake rental properties on CraigsList, luring people to provide personal information — including social security numbers and bank routing and credit card numbers — on false rental agreements,” Kilmartin said.
The carrot used to entice potential victims is lower-priced rentals. The swindler copies a legitimate advertisement for a property and places it on Craigslist at a discounted price, reported the Barrington Patch. ABC News reporter Mark Curtis was almost caught up in such a scheme.
“Even informed and knowledgeable consumers can fall victim to these sophisticated scams," said Kilmartin, according to the Patch. "They prey on people’s dreams of living in a beautiful property at a steal of a price. Thankfully, in this case, Mark became suspicious and knew to contact a legitimate broker, the police and the Office of Attorney General. Coming forward with information about scams is the best way we have to protect others by shining the light on the scam and giving the public the tools they need to shut them down.”
It is common for the scammer to ask for information so a background check can be conducted. Scammers generally attempt to conduct all the business via email, asking for detailed personal information and frequently "require" a deposit placed by using a credit card or a wired money transfer.
“Be leery if the listing mentions the owner is out of the country or about to leave the country and needs to rent the property right away,” Kilmartin stated.
Unfortunately, scams are not uncommon on Craiglist. The website lists its first rule of thumb to avoid fraud is "Deal locally with folks you can meet in person - follow this one rule and avoid 99% of scam attempts on craigslist."
Earlier this year a Virginia couple was scammed out of $1,000. The pair was in the midst of moving into their newly rented home when they discovered they were scammed. The thief had broken into the home in order to show it to the couple and they had no idea they were swindled until police came to the door.
"Supposedly, they were missionaries that were going overseas to serve for about five years, that was their story," Richard Shive recalled. "We had moved in everything. Pretty much every room in here was full."
With the summer season approaching, individuals looking to rent out a temporary rental should also be on their guard, as vacation rental scams are also very common.
Authorities recommend individuals looking to rent insist on having personal contact with the landlord or broker directly, and not to negotiate or make an agreement through email. A red flag is if an "owner" refuses to do business by the telephone and wants money to be wired without speaking. Additionally, another tip given is to contact a real estate agent in the area of the property and inquire about it; as most listings are known by the real estate community.
Unfortunately, rental scams on Craigslist have been plaguing for several years now, and still surface. As the summer season approaches, a time when people commonly go on vacation or decide to move before a new school year starts, scams might increase. It is important to always consider these types of scams when making any rental arrangements. As the old adage says, if it sounds too good to be true, it likely is.