Scams involving rental properties are all over Atlanta! After 14 years in the real estate industry, I think I’ve seen it all when it comes to the different ways scam artists try to make a victim out of innocent people who just want to find a nice new place to live.
Like any major city, the Atlanta area is full of criminals who are out there trying to run rental scams on the public. It seems almost every day someone calls our office and comments on how they were ripped off or scammed during their search for their next home. Hopefully after reading this article, you’ll be better protected as you plan your upcoming move.
Because our team sees some of the same scams being run over and over again, we decided to prepare a list of the most common rental scams being conducted in our area.
Many scammers these days are using websites like Craigslist, Backpage, Zillow and Trulia to steal your identity and money. Do not be fooled.
Follow these tips to be safe:
- Beware of the beautiful house with a price that’s way too good to be true. In the highly competitive Atlanta rental market, real homeowners and agents don’t price rental property way below market rent in order to quickly find a tenant. With so many people wanting to rent homes all over Atlanta, they don’t have to. If you see a gorgeous property and the rent is so low you can’t believe it, most likely it’s a scam.
- Beware of imposters. At the height of the real estate recession when thousands of empty homes and foreclosures were all over town, a new scam emerged in Atlanta. Criminals would break into empty homes, change the locks on the doors, and replace the “For Sale” sign with a “For Rent” sign.
Then they would get on Craigslist and post ads, advertising the home for rent, pretending to be the homeowner. They would set up appointments to show the home to potential renters, then take their security deposit and first month’s rent and disappear. Many people fell victim to this common scam.
Always check the credentials of anyone claiming to be the homeowner or claiming to represent the homeowner. If the person you meet says they own the home, verify it with the county clerk. It’s public information. If the person you speak with claims they work for a property management or real estate company, verify the company actually exists.
- Beware of the long distance owner or the owner who supposedly lives outside the country. No real homeowner or property manager would send you keys without meeting you. Have some common sense. 99% of people who claim to be living overseas with the perfect house to rent to you are nothing more than scammers hanging out in internet cafes waiting for you to wire them money you’ll never see again.
Be wary of claims from people who are contacting you from abroad claiming they are missionaries, U.N. workers, or in the military. Just so you know: People who live out of state but have rental property here almost always hire local real estate agents and property managers to manage the property and find tenants for them.
- No homeowner or “property management company” should ask you for a deposit, your social security number, bank account information or a rental application before you see the property. If someone’s asking you to pay a deposit and they’ll send you keys to the house: it’s a 100% guaranteed scam. No one rents to a tenant they’ve never met. If anyone asks you to complete a rental application before you’ve even seen the property, they are trying to use your information so they can steal your identity.
- Always Google the phone number for the homeowner or agent before you call about the home. See if scams have been reported. If you Google a phone number and advertisements come up for multiple rental homes in multiple cities and states, that is a sure sign of a scammer.
- NEVER wire money via MoneyGram or Western Union. Most rental property scams involve a request to wire funds. Do not wire funds to anyone you haven’t met personally. NEVER EVER!! Scammers create convincing reasons why they need to deal remotely. Also, do not accept wire funds that you did not initiate. Usually if they’re offering to send money to you and ask you to send a portion of it back, it’s because they’re sending you money using fraudulent checks or money orders. Don’t fall for it.
- Beware if they don’t seem to care about your pets. Responsible property owners and real estate agents want detailed information about any pets that will be living in the home. Property owners are especially leery you might bring a 90 pound Great Dane into their home and tear the place apart. If the landlord’s attitude is ‘we take all pets no questions asked’, it’s likely a scam.
- Requests for verification codes. If you are asked to provide a code sent to your cell phone via text or phone call, this is a scam.
- Typos and sob stories. Emails filled with spelling and grammatical errors are usually a sign of fraud. These messages are usually typed by people in other countries who don’t speak or write good English. Messages involving stories of family or financial issues, or of agents who charge too high a premium are usually fraud.
Use your common sense, listen to your gut and look for red flags before you end up losing your identity and your deposit. Be safe and let’s all work together to rid our city of rental scams.