Utah rental scams are on the rise! With the rental market booming con artists are targeting renters for their scams. No one intentionally gets swindled by a scam artist, so it is important to remember you are not immune. We recently had a major scam involving one of our properties. We want to make sure that you are aware of the new tactics these scammers are using.
Here is one of the most popular scams right now that targets renters:
- The scammer finds a property online.
- They steal the photos and information and list it online as a rental at an incredible price.
- They pretend to be the owner and communicate directly with the would-be renter and takes a cash deposit.
- The victim is left with nothing when they never get keys to access their new home.
Here are the details of how this scam played out with our property and what lessons you can learn from it.
First the scam artist found one of our beautiful properties listed for sale. Once the scammer found the property, they downloaded the pictures and copied the property listing information. They then proceeded to slash the price and post it as a rental property on Zillow. They could have just as easily posted it on KSL, craigslist, or other free sites.
Lesson #1: Use reputable sites for finding rentals
All of these high-risk sites have prominent warnings about possible scams, so the scammers go to great length to make their ad look legitimate. By using a reputable site (such as PropertyPond.com) to find rental properties you reduce the chances of getting lured in by a spurious ad. You can also protect yourself by finding a rental agency that helps people find legitimate rentals.
The next step the scammers took was to usurp communication. They put their own contact information on the ad so the victims would call and email them directly. Once situated as the authority on the property the scammer was able to tell the victims anything. The victims believed everything because they had called who they thought was the owner of the property. When things went south many of the victims did more research and found our company information from the original listing. We informed them of the scam, but for many it was too late.
Lesson #2: Get Seconds (second opinion and second source)
While these victims waited until after they lost money to do more research, you can prevent a lot of heartache by doing your research first.
Getting a second opinion will help you see the deal more clearly. Is it too good to be true? Involving someone close to you is the easiest way to get a second opinion, but it is not the most reliable. Because they are close to you they are also emotionally involved in the deal. One of the people who was hurt by this current scam told us she warned her husband that it seemed fishy, but he still went with it, and lost over $1,000.
It is better to involve a reputable person not connected directly with the property. When you are purchasing a home you should hire a buyers agent to represent you and protect your interests. If you use the listing agent their primary concern is making money for their seller, not protecting you. You need similar protection when looking for a rental. Find a property management company and ask them to look at the ad to verify its authenticity. A better solution is to employ a professional who helps with rentals. Obviously this will require you to pay for their time and services. However, it is better to pay a fee to a professional and get a legitimate property, than to pay a scam artist and receive nothing.
The other ‘second’ is to find a second source for the ad. The Internet makes searching easy, so use this free information to your advantage. Can you find the property listed on multiple websites? Are any of those sites reliable? Is there different contact information on any of the ads? These are all warning signs that someone is trying to scam with the property. If one ad shows a personal number for a property, and another shows a company number, choose the company. You can do an internet search for the company and look for customer reviews and other sign of repute. Companies are easier to research than individuals. One victim called us about the listing because the had done this very thing. They asked us why we had it listed for sale on one site and for rent on another. We informed them that the rental listing was a scam. They then called the other number and the scammer told them that we were the ones trying to scam her. She was able to research our company and see that we are legitimate. The scammer was unable to verify their claims.
Even if you are only looking for rental properties search reputable listings sites to see if the rental is also listed for sale. Reputable listing sites will say the company the property is listed with. Verify that the company exists and is legitimate. Some reputable listing sites include: goberealty.com, utahrealestate.com, and utahdave.com.
*Word of caution: Homes listed for sale by owner are equally susceptible to rental scams.
Another seconds is to try a little scamming yourself. Using a different email address, or a friend, send a second request for information. Ask if they have any other interested parties. If they try to sell you on both, than you know it is a scam because two people cannot share the house. Sometimes scammers will use the existence of other buyers as leverage to get you to send money. But if they are fishing to receive money from multiple parties you know something is going on.
Now back to the scam.
We do not know what the scammer discussed with the victims but we do know they tried to position themselves as the owner of the property. One way they did this was by creating a fake email address with the owners name. If the owner of the property was Brian Gaux, the scammer would have created a new email address that looks like Brian (firstname.lastname@example.org, or Bgaux@yahoo.com, etc.). That way the victim thinks they are speaking directly with the owners of the property, when they are actually communicating with the scammer.
An increasing number of people have an online identity which is a combination of profiles from Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc. Many of these require an email address to verify your identity. When you do an internet search for an email address you can sometimes see these profiles. The existence of multiple profiles (with photos) help validate that the email is real. It doesn’t guarantee that the email is legitimate, but it does increase the chances that it is. On the flip side, just because there are not profiles doesn’t mean the email is necessarily fake. But this should be enough to keep you on high alert. You can also search a name, but common names will yield multiple results.
You can also try asking the person for a professional email address, something from a domain other than Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo. While this does not guarantee anything it will help you get a feel for their legitimacy.
You can also ask them to provide verification of their identity. This can be done in many ways. Try using Skype, Facetime, or Google Hangout to speak face to face. While talking have them show you a photo ID that verifies their name. You can also arrange to meet them in person at the property before any money is exchanged. Then show up either early or late. If they are sitting in the driveway of the property (not inside the house) it could be an indication that they do not own the home. If they do agree to meet in person ask them to verify their identity with a photo ID. If possible tour the home before committing any money to the transaction. Look for family photos that can identify the true owners.
In our situation the scammer was able to convinced his victims to send him money with the promise of receiving keys to the property after the money was received. The result was a lot of people showing up at our property asking for keys. We received multiple phone calls as the victims arrived at the home to pick up there keys and discovered they had been swindled. When we asked the people where they saw the property they said they found it on Zillow.
The requirement to pay in advance should always be a red-flag. Don’t send money without some form of verification. A scammer will attempt to get your money electronically or by mail. Contracts should be discussed and terms agreed to before any money is transferred. Scammers can use electronic signature programs to appear more legitimate, so be wary of digital contracts. Make sure they have some skin in the game as well. What assurance do you have that you’ll receive the keys after the money is transferred?
What do you do if you’re a victim of a rental scam? Here is a helpful article with some potential actions you can take. They include calling the police, notifying the site you found the ad on, and filing a complaint with the FTC.
- Asked to pay up-front without seeing the property
- Landlord seems over-eager to do the deal
- Unusually high up-front costs and security deposit
- You feel pressured
- Your told you don’t need a lawyer or professional representative
- There is no written and signed contract
- Landlord has a convenient excuse for not showing the property or meeting in person
And here are the tips for investigating fishy ads:
- Always use reputable search sites
- Get a second opinion from someone professional or not involved in the transaction
- Verify the identity of the landlord
- Search for the property on other sites
Have you ever been caught in a scam?
What can you share to help others from falling into the same trap?