Rental scams target both landlords and tenants! Rental scams are widely found on (but by no means restricted to) sites like craigslist.com or gumtree.com. They are insidious scams that cause serious financial loss to both landlords and potential tenants.
Rental scams fall into three main categories:
- The scammer poses as an individual renting out his/her own property. Usually it will be listed as available because the owner claims to be living or working elsewhere for various reasons, such as charity work, missionary work, etc. -- Anything that makes the scammer appear respectable.
The alleged landlord will ask for the first month's rent to be sent by Western Union or Moneygram, before sending the keys by a courier service. Another variant is to ask the prospective tenant to prove he can afford the rent by using Western Union to send money to a trusted friend or relative, then send the scammer a scanned copy of the receipt, with the false claim that only the named recipient can retrieve the money.
- The scammer may pose as a property management business with many properties for rent. This is a more elaborate scam, often involving fake websites and even bank accounts.
Both types of scams use photos of real properties stolen from websites of genuine estate agents/realtors. Obviously the property will not be available for viewing, but the scammer will use various excuses to disguise that fact. Never send any money without actually seeing what you have been promised. Any genuine landlord or agent will be able to arrange for you to enter the property.
- If you are a landlord, a scammer may pose as a prospective tenant wanting to rent property from you. He will offer to send you a check (often from a "relative" or business), and ask you to cash the check and send part of the money to another person by Western Union, using an excuse such as an accidental overpayment, funds to pay a moving company, etc.. There will be a sense of urgency because they want you to send the money before the check is discovered to be fake.
Important: Western Union and MoneyGram transactions are intended only for transactions between yourself and people you know and trust. The transaction details should never be disclosed to a third party.
Despite what a scammer might tell you, Western Union and MoneyGram Transfers can be picked up virtually anywhere in the world and with a minimum of identification, or even none at all. They are almost impossible to trace once the money has been collected.