Rental Scams on the rise? One local broker’s advice

“I just felt like it’s unfortunate and it seems to be getting worse instead of one every now and then. For example, here’s a pile of them,” says Tony Stanford a Savannah real estate broker.

He’s referring to “fake” rental ads he pulled off the Internet on online advertising sites. “And this little sampling is just an hour’s time on Craigslist,” he tells me. “What if I spent a couple of days? I probably would have found hundreds of them.”

Stanford says in 2016, he had several personal rental ads that were hijacked. In one case, the crook wrote he was a “deaf man” so a potential renter could not contact him by phone. Stanford says there are a lot of excuses like that, i.e. why someone cannot speak with the so called landlord by phone or in person. He says often, a potential renter just gets an email address and in some cases, is asked to sent rent and deposit money without even seeing the property.

Online ads especially are somewhat easy to hijack says Standford. He says a legitimate ad placed by a personal property owner or real estate company includes pictures of the property and detailed information about the home. Sanford says if he rents a house in say a week, the ad may stay up for several weeks. He says in that period, crooks can steal the pictures and some of the information and create their own “listing.”

He says one of the biggest enticements for potential renters is the price of the rent, which is always substantially lower than what is listed in a legitimate ad. “Unfortunately you’re seeing a lot of this and they’re picking price points that people can’t help but think is a great deal,” Stanford told me. “But when it’s obvious a house would rent for a lot more money and it’s dirt cheap and it includes utilities, that’s the biggest red flag you can have,” he said.

Stanford says because the cost of electricity and gas cannot be predicted that property owners often don’t include that in the rental price. So again, he says if you see a rental price that is much lower than other listings plus the cost of utilities and things like no pet deposit, be skeptical.

He also told a horror story about what a friend had experienced last month. Stanford said the man was trying to sell his home but found out that someone had rented it to a family instead. The renters insisted they had a right to stay because they had a lease. Stanford said the police and the courts had to be involved.

A short time later, a friend asked him to help her just find some listings. “But I just thought it was weird, this was December 31 and  two out of the three I pulled up were fraud ” he told me.  “If I hadn’t done it she could have probably said one of them looks like a a great deal and where do I send my money? And some people  would do that and that’s the part that’s scary,” he told me.

Stanford urges people to do whatever they can to check out ownership of a rental home (like comparing official tax records and address with the name of the person who says they are the owner.)  He also says be realistic about cost.  While everyone wants a good deal, if you are seeing something for half of what most other listings are asking, it may indeed be too good to be true.  Finally, he urges people never to send money through the mail to someone they don’t know.

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