Avoid this Common Rental Scam
There is a scam that has been going on for several years and one would think that many people would know about it by now but recent events have led me to believe that it is still alive and well.
This is the gist of the scam.
Someone, a scammer, will clone a lease posting they find on the internet and re-post it in Craigslist. Some of these perpetrators are brazen enough to take a listing that is already in Craigslist and re-post it as their own.
When they do this, they usually relist the property significantly cheaper than the initial post. This is to attract a motivated taker. Anyone who has been looking to find a place to lease in any specific geographical area will immediately identify that the offer being made is a real deal, one might even say, too good to be true. Regardless, the seeker is motivated to act quickly in fear of losing such a great opportunity, so the hook is in place.
When the interested party contacts the "owner" to inquire more about the property, there is usually an obstacle that prevents the owner from being able to physically appear at the property. It takes a few e-mail exchanges but the scammer is capable of establishing some trust with the "tenant". The tenant is instructed to drive by the property, maybe even look into the windows for a better view, and then if still interested, they are given next steps.
The next step usually includes a lease agreement to be signed by the tenant, and then the tenant is told to send a security deposit. Usually for less than the actual monthly rental amount, and then, once the money is received, the keys are to be sent to the new tenant; only the keys never arrive. The tenants are out their deposit money and in some cases are packed up and ready to move into their new home.
These scam artists are very clever and they will gain your trust. The first sign that you might be getting scammed is if the person posting the listing cannot meet you in person at the property or cannot arrange for someone to meet you in person. The point here is that they don't have a key, that is why they can't arrange for you to get into the property. They will more than likely ask you to send the money in such a way that it can't be traced back to them.
Also, if you drive by the property in question and you see a For Lease sign in front, call the number and make sure that the person you've been exchanging emails with is the same person. And if the person you've been corresponding with is telling you to ignore the Realtor sign in the yard, there's your first red flag. You think you're going to lose the deal of a lifetime if you call that Realtor to confirm because, perhaps, the scammer has told you he's working behind his Realtor's back and they don't want you notifying the Realtor. That's a huge red flag because your new "landlord" is showing just how deceptive he/she is.
And finally, if you have been made a victim of this scam, be sure to file a report with your local police department.
Best of luck with your apartment search.