Rental and real estate scams seem to be on the increase lately. Maybe they’re just getting more attention, but if they’re anything like every other scam in the universe, they proliferate in a rough economy.
There are versions that target both owners and renters.
For example, if you’ve got a property to rent out, you might be contacted by a party who claims to be interested. They will either send you a cashier’s check (first and last month’s rent, deposit, etc.) for far over the amount you’ve asked, then ask you to wire the remaining funds back to them, or give you a check then pretend to back out of the agreement later.
In this case, remember first that anyone who gives you a check then tells you to wire some or all of it back to them is attempting to commit fraud. I have yet to come across an exception to this rule. Also, if you’re renting out a property, only deal with people you can meet in person, verify their identification, and do all the credit and other checks you’d ordinarily do.
If you’re attempting to rent a property, the scam usually involves people who claim to be landlords but aren’t. You have to verify that a property is in fact owned by the person you’re talking to. Just having the key doesn’t mean anything—sometimes this scheme is run by former tenants. Ask to see the landlord’s ID, and use local websites or other resources to verify that you’re dealing with the real owner.
As a final tip, just be beyond cautious if you’re using Craigslist for renting out a property or finding a place to rent.
The IC3 has some additional information, and this site goes into even greater detail. Whichever side of a rental situation you’re standing on, it pays to stay vigilant.