3 types of rental scams on craigslist
I like Craigslist and both Mrs. Stew and I buy and sell frequently on the sight. Sometimes we do well . . . other times not so well, but I still heartily recommend this mostly free website. It is the modern-day equivalent of the yard sale, except Craiglist probably brings more eyes than telephone pole signs and balloons tied to the mailbox.
Over the past few months, we have been looking for a new place to rent. There are so many websites to choose from when looking for a home to buy or rent that it is impossible to keep up with all of them, so we focused on Craigslist. We were quickly exposed to the usual Craigslist scams and quickly learned to spot them. Here are three types of rental property scams that we observed:
I wrote about this scam earlier in the month and posted the exact text from the email conversation that I had with some individual from overseas who wanted to rent a house to me. When answering another ad, I had contact with a “landlord” from the United Kingdom. Both claimed to be Christians involved in mission work and both claimed to be very, very trustworthy.
The way these scams work is when you call or email about the property, eventually the “landlord” will tell you that you can get the keys after you send the deposit via money order, wire, MoneyGram, etc. Obviously, once you send payment, you will never be sent a set of keys and you will probably never hear from the property owner ever again. The reason that this scam sometimes works is because the deal being advertised is really good, almost too good to be true. When I ran up against this type of scam, the rental unit was being offered for roughly half of the going market price.
At one point, I inquired about an apartment for rent and the person claiming to be the rental manager wanted me to give the information necessary for a credit report and even supplied me with a link to a website purporting to be able to generate such a report. Here’s the thing – she wanted me to fill out the report before touring the property, before filling out a rental application and before she would even tell me the exact location of the property!
She explained all of this by saying that she wanted to make sure that I was a credit-worthy candidate before going forward and did not want to waste her time if we had bad credit. She also explained that when they had revealed the property location in the past, vandalism took place. On this point, she was probably telling the truth, the property was probably vandalized after the person’s identity was stolen . . . well, if the property really existed in the first place. The final piece to the puzzle for me was that she did not ask me to pay for the credit report. Every single property that we looked at required $25 to $35 application fee in order to generate the credit report. This owner was going to run my credit report for free.
This is not always a straight-up attempt to rip you off, but the rent-to-own advertisements are misleading. The ad will reference a property with a certain number of bedrooms and baths at a great price. The problem is that when you call or email, you are told that the property in the ad is not available, but they are willing to find “several similar properties” for you to look at and they “sold one just like it the other day”. Many times this group will offer to purchase a house that you like and then rent it to you. Again, these folks are not doing anything illegal, but they are frustrating to deal with when all you want to do is simply find a house or apartment to rent.
We are still using Craigslist to look for a place to rent, but as soon as we catch a whiff that we are dealing with one of the above scams, we immediately mark the ad as “spam” or “miscategorized”.