When Rental Scammers Win
The costly business of dealing with bandits
There are so many rental scams today that real estate rental managers are forced to remain constantly on the lookout for known and unknown threats. Though InTransit Properties takes every precaution possible, it seems there is always a new way for unscrupulous individuals to outsmart both the seasoned property manager as well as the unsuspecting consumer.
The following story outlines a scam that has been around for awhile, but amazingly, renters can and do fall victim to this heartbreaking scenario.
We represented a rental property in a nice area with a good school district. We behaved as reputable property managers should, posting the information on all the respected websites and watermarking photos with the company logo. The title picture clearly showed the front of the property with the company sign prominently located in the front yard. Actively showing the property, we met with contractors to have get repairs completed, while moving toward a quick turnaround with a qualified family eager to move into the school district.
One Monday morning, upon meeting a contractor at the property, there stood a woman, her two children and a U-Haul parked in the driveway. She was excited to see us because she believed this was her move-in day.
We had no idea who she was. We had already selected our new tenant and this person’s name had never come up in our showings, nor in our application process.
At first confusion reigned. She was lovely, eager to prove her validity. The contractor stood by, ready to get started on the job he had been hired to complete. She insisted she needed to get started moving in so she could return her U-Haul on time.
With heavy hearts, our questions began.
- On what website did she find the property? She couldn’t remember.
- What was the price for the property listed? It was listed several hundred dollars below the actual price.
- Had she been able to look at the property? No. She was out-of-state and the owner was currently living out of the country.
- How had she communicated with the owner? By phone only.
- Had she completed an application? No. The owner was very understanding and trusting.
- Had she made a down payment? Yes. She had paid by certified funds, several months of rent in advance. (She began to cry as reality dawned on her.)
- Where had she sent the payment? To a P.O. Box.
Explaining that she was the victim of a scam was excruciating. She tried valiantly to rescue the situation. Her story was heartbreaking and familiar: She'd spent her last dollars to pay the rent in advance and to accomplish her move across country. She had nothing left but hope in her heart that this would be the fresh start she so desperately needed.
The police arrived and the officers were compassionate. So were the social workers who arrived and worked to find her temporary shelter.
Red flags may seem obvious in the telling of this tale, but the business of bandits working property owners, property managers and consumers is mercurial, prevalent and can happen to almost anyone.
In this case she'd seen the InTransit Properties' legitimate listing, but hoping to save money, she called the number on the pirated listing and fell for the story she was fed. And though common sense dictates not sending money to someone unknown and not vetted, life isn't always that black-and-white.
Creative rental scams happen every day. But renters can dig deeper and double check if they see different rental prices on different web sites. They can call the property manager if the property lists one, and they can make it a practice to never, ever send money to those unknown and not verified.
Because bandits are clever, they're prolific and they're continuously working to find new ways to defraud the public - especially renters. And the old adage remains right: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.