Renters beware. A new rental scam is on the rise as foreclosures continue to flood the marketplace… rental properties being “leased” by sham “landlords” with no connection, whatsoever, to the property! You, the renter, find a great rental property – perhaps on-line or driving by – you fill out your applications, pay a deposit, maybe even meet the “landlord” and get a set of keys. You might even get so far as to move in, until you find out the property is in foreclosure, bank-owned, and being put up for sale shortly. The “landlord” is long gone, and you’re out a deposit and potentially victim to identity theft if you turned over personal information!
How to prevent this fraud?
First off – your common sense and “b.s. detector” are your best friend. If something seems too good to be true – it probably is. A nice property for lease, hundreds below market value, that requires you to “act fast” and leave a cash deposit, is likely a red flag. A property with a “For Sale” sign that you’re told “don’t worry about that, we’re going to rent it instead,” is likely a red flag. If the “landlord” can’t or won’t let you see the inside of property first… red flag. Cash only deposit… red flag.
Second – due diligence! Investigate the property you’re seeking to rent. Google the property and the landlord. If it’s listed for sale (even perhaps without a sign in the front yard), ask questions and/or call the listing agent. Try to meet with the landlord; tour the property first; even go talk to some neighbors; then drive by the property again later when the landlord is not expecting you to see if anything’s changed (i.e. “For Sale” sign now in the front yard).
Third – be careful with your personal information and deposit. Don’t fill out a credit application or other sensitive personal information until you’re certain it’s legitimate. If it doesn’t feel right, move on. There are other rental properties out there.
While craigslist and other free sites often have great legitimate listings for those looking beyond apartment complexes, be careful with sites that allow a potential schemer to disappear without a trace. Do your homework. Many legitimate rental properties are listed on the MLS, to which a local REALTOR® can help you find, free of charge to you, the renter (REALTORS® get paid by the property owner to assist filling vacancies, just like when buying a home).
Author Devin R. Lucas is a Real Estate Attorney, Broker and REALTOR®, specializing in Newport Beach, Costa Mesa and Orange County, serving individual, investor and small business interests in real estate. Active with the Newport Beach Association of REALTORS® and Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce, Devin R. Lucas Real Estate is an independent real estate brokerage and law practice located in Newport Beach, California.
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