The vicious Home Rental Scam – don’t get conned.
It seems like new variations of the Nigerian 419 scam pop up every week. The one that caught my attention recently involved renting a home, and it’s a nasty trick that could take anyone by surprise. But if you know what to look for, you can avoid it.
I’ve been looking around for a home rental recently. There are several resources out there for home renters, but the first place I tried was Craigslist. It seemed like an easy way to cut out the middleman and deal directly with the family renting out their home.
One home that I found seemed way too good to be true. For $1200 a month inclusive, I could rent a beautiful 5-bedroom home with wooden floors, new appliances, a finished basement and even a whirlpool tub. That’s a whole lot more house then we have now, for a whole lot less than our current mortgage payment.
I emailed asking for details. I expected a reply saying “sorry, it’s $2200 a month, my bad,” but the reply I actually got was more than a little weird. The English used in the ad was perfect, clearly stripped from a different listing; the English in the email was broken and awkward. Here’s the reply:
Thanks for the email. I own the house and also want you to know that it was due to my transfer to (West Africa, Nigeria) that makes us to leave the house and also want to give it out for rent and looking for a responsible person and God fearing person who can take very good care of the house in our absence.we are not after the money for the rent but want it to be clean all the time and the person that will rent it to take it as if it were its own. So for now, We are here in West Africa and will be staying here for the next 4 years in our new house and also with the keys of the house for rent, we try to look for an agent that we can give this documents and the keys before we left but could not find, and we as well do not want our house to be used any how in our absence that is why we took it along with us. I and my Wife came over to Africa for a missionary work, so i hope you will promise us that you will take very good care of the house. So get back to me if you know you could take care of our house or perhaps experience you have in renting home. Hope you are okay with the price of $1200 per month and the security Deposit is $600.Get back to me for the rental application. You can go and view.
Here is my contact number: +2347058014164 or 0112347058014164
Alarm bells instantly started ringing in my head. What was with the “Hello Dear” opening line? Why the constant references to God and missionary work? And how come they still had the keys and no agent?
This all sounded like the classic Nigerian 419 scam, right down to the broken English and references to religion. So I did a quick search for the exact term “Craigslist Rental Scam Africa.” It turned up over 259,000 hits, including this one about the very same ad I had seen.
After a little more digging around, I found out that this scam has been around for years but is rapidly on the rise due to the rotten economy. Some people, like myself, are looking for a bigger house to rent until we can sell our smaller one. Other people want out of a big house payment, or have bad credit and can’t get a mortgage.
The Associated Press reports:
Because of tighter restrictions on financing for home buyers, many are renting instead. And the rising cost of gas is pulling people closer to work, transportation or schools. Jim Kight, past president of the Rental Housing Association of Greater Portland, says renters bidding for good homes have helped drive up rates at his rental properties as much as 15 percent from a year ago. "This rental market isn't hot; it's beyond that. It's steaming," Kight said. "The sad part is that this kind of market opens it up for these kinds of scams."
Regardless of the situation, the market has been flooded with people looking to rent a home; and when that happens, scammers come out of the woodwork.
There are variations on the theme, but the basic premise is the same. Scammers will take a legitimate listing for a home, complete with pictures, and repost it on Craigslist for a lower price. This gets way more people to bite, people are eager to find a great house for a small payment.
The scammer usually replies with a story about quickly moving out of the country to work as a missionary. References to God and missionary work are supposed to instill a basic level of trust in the potential tenant; if it’s a man of God, he can’t be a bad guy, right?
The scammer will ask for a month’s rent and a deposit, plus a completed rental agreement. This, of course, is the key to stealing your identity. You may be asked to mail it to someone and the keys will be returned to you. Or, you may get a more sophisticated scammer who will give you a tour of a home first. In the latter case, the con artist may have actually rented the home for a month and plans on scamming many people in one or two days before disappearing.
You may think you’d be too smart to fall for one of these scams, but there are many people who have already fallen victim to this crime. It’s easy enough to dismiss someone speaking pidgin English and asking for money to be sent to Nigeria. 99% of us would spot it. But, what if it was someone with a greater grasp of English, who gave you a tour of the home and had all the right paperwork?
As 10 news reports:
“According to authorities, the scam has recently popped up because the type of locking system on most homes for sale needs an access card. However, the glut of available homes on the market has reduced the supply for the access cards, so many agents have been forced to use older systems.”
So now, the scammers don’t even need to rent the home themselves. They can gain access to a home for rent, and look like a legitimate landlord or agent. So what can you do? How do you know if the rental property is legit?
Unfortunately, this crime hasn’t appeared on the Craigslist sams page yet, but with enough media attention it should make the page soon enough. But a site called rentalscams.org has some great information, like the warning list below.I highly recommend checking it out if you’re in the market for a rental property.
There are commonalities with all rental scam emails. Below are some tips when dissecting a rental scam email.
1. Does the email start out with Sir / Madam?
2. Are there misspellings in the email?
3. Are there character mistakes in the email? i.e Hello,my nameis Susie.
4. Is there excessive capitalization?
5. Does the email reference God, UK, Cashiers Check, Doctor, Nigeria, Reverend, etc.
6. Is the email from a free email provider. i.e gmail, yahoo, aol, hotmail.
7. Does the email refer to another person or agent?
8. Does the email reference wanting to move in site unseen?
If the email has a majority of these commonalities, then the chances are very good it is a scammer. If you are unsure, it is best to not reply to the email.
Scammers aren’t just targeting tenants though. If you’re a homeowner planning on renting out your property, you may also be conned; a site called Fraud Guides offers the following sound advice.
Rental Scam Warning Signs
- You are contacted via email regarding a property. You may have posted on Craigslist, for instance, so email is hardly unexpected.
- Be on the lookout for poor grammar or comments that make no sense.
- The request comes from outside the country. This may turn out to be a legitimate inquiry but once you know it originated from somewhere overseas proceed with caution.
- There is a sense of urgency. If you feel pressured to act quickly because of some immediate need, be especially cautious. Scam artists count on decisions made in haste.
- Third parties become involved. If the person wanting to rent your property needs to use a friend or someone else as an intermediary in order to pay, you should be at your own highest alert level. This is a common Nigerian Scam ploy.
- You will be over-paid. This is one of the tricks these scam artists use to get money out of you. Normally, you would be the one receiving cash in a transaction. In this case, however, the check or money order is made out for more than you requested. Oops. Now they'll want you to wire the extra amount back to them. Once you do, they back out of the entire arrangement and days later you will find out that the check or money order was a forgery and you're stuck with the loss.
How to avoid Nigerian rental scams
- Only deal with landlords or renters local to you.
- Do not let someone pay more than you asked for.
- Do a web search for the renter's name to see what comes up.
- If the payment arrives in the form of a money order, inspect it carefully in case it's a counterfeit. Despite your best attempts to determine its authenticity, it may still turn out to be a forgery.
- Do not let someone else use your name or Social Security number to buy a property, especially if they offer to pay you for using it.
- Don't do anything until the money order or check clears the bank. You could be pressured to act sooner and you might even receive threats.
- Don't give into anything. Nigerian scams depend on you sending money to someone before the money order clears the bank.
So whether you’re looking to rent a home, or rent out your home, you really need to keep your wits about you folks. Stay safe. Be vigilant. And if in doubt, back out.