September 2, 2014

Rental Scams Hit Close To Home - Part 1

Scams targeting renters and homeowners have always been a cause for concern. In the Homeownership Education classes offered by VHDA and by our certified training partners, we share information about types of fraud that might be encountered, but sometimes we hear about new tricks that crooks use to target innocent people. Here’s one that recently came to our attention:

A home seller in the Richmond area posted a FOR SALE ad for a move-in-ready house on a popular real estate website. After the ad had run for several days, the seller was contacted by someone who had driven by the property and called the number on the sign in the yard. The caller said how excited she was to be renting the house. The seller explained the house was for sale, not rent. When another person hoping to rent the house contacted the seller, the details started to fall into place.

The home seller’s listing had been copied (text and pictures) and posted with different contact information on rental websites as a home for rent. The fake landlord asked for a small application fee and later contacted the potential renters for a deposit. Of course, the fake landlord then disappeared with the money. In this instance, the real seller received six calls in two days from rental prospects who had driven by the property and used the contact information from the yard sign, instead of from the fake listing. There’s no telling how many people paid the fake landlord before finding out the home was not for rent.

Home sellers caught in these scams can’t do much except report the fraudulent listings to the websites, contact local law enforcement and be firm but empathetic with callers, especially those who may have already paid the application fee or deposit. Real estate websites have teams dedicated to weeding scams out and responding to complaints, but it’s very difficult to stay ahead of the game.

For renters, the best defense is a healthy sense of skepticism and following the practices that websites recommend when considering rental properties. Take the time to protect yourself against fraud and theft before starting your search.
Find out ways to avoid becoming the victim of a rental scam in Part 2 of Rental Scams Hit Close to Home.
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