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Too Good to be True? Beware of Rental Listing Scams…

Too Good to be True? Beware of Rental Listing Scams...

It’s a mad, mad world out there. Not only is the rental market extremely competitive right now, but there are people out there praying on those in the search with scams advertising “fake” property listings. We want you to be aware of this, and we have another unique example to share with you that will open your eyes even further…

A couple of weeks ago we received a phone call from a woman inquiring about one of our rental listings posted on Trulia.com, a sister website of Zillow.com, which is a very popular sales and rental website. Her concern was that she inquired using the link in the listing, and then received an email in response from the ‘property owner’ which seemed very suspicious. She forwarded the email to us, and we quickly realized that somehow our listing had been corrupted. We want to share this suspicious email with you to point out the red flags that demonstrate potential rental listing scams:

Hello xxxx,
This is the owner of the property at xxx Gxxxx Ct,Santa Rosa, CA 95404 which you inquired about. (1) Our home is available for lease as we want responsible & decent  adults/family that possess qualities to manage our home as if it were theirs.The rental fee is at a very affordable price as (2) i am not really  bothered about the rent rather my priority is your assurance in being able to keep our home in good condition always.We initially had the  property up for sale but changed our mind and decided to lease it out because of my urgent transfer from my place of work to Rhode Island. (3) The agent we previously put in charge over the property was asking too much of an agent fee by inflating the rental fee (4) thereby making it  difficult for people to afford the rent.For this reason, we decided to rent  it out ourselves and no longer want any third party,rather a direct  agreement between us and any interested tenant.If you drive by you  might still notice the sign post of the agent in-front of the house but  don’t bother as I have instructed the agent to take off the sign post from  the property.

I will be away with my family for the next couple of years or  more pending any new transfers from my company.I work as a  construction Engineer here in Rhode Island and i’m currently married.We  know there is no way we can be sure that you are the right person to live  in our home because we won’t be able to see in person before rounding  up the rental process (5) but we will be working by trust here with whatever  you tell us about yourself and previous rental experiences.You can get  back to us if you are truly interested by telling us more about yourself,your previous rental experience and at what time you wish to rent the home.I await your response in this regard.
The following are the accurate details of my home and its fees.

Bedrooms:3, Bathrooms:2,
Rental fee (per month):$2200
Security Deposit(Refundable):$1000
Pet Fee(one-time payment):$200 

Best Regards (6) (7)

Red Flags explained here:
(1) Poor punctuation, (2) poor grammar, and also misspelled words. Most scam artists do not use the same rules of English grammar and punctuation that we are customary with. If they are International, they may be using a translator service that displaces the order of words or structure of the sentence which is not common with the way we use everyday speech. Or, using words spelled out in the British-English form, such as the word “favour” instead of “favor”.
(3) A story about being out of the area. Most rental listing scams include a story about how the owner is not available for you to meet in person, and they do not have a local representative to meet with. You always want to be able to meet your landlord in person.
(4) Rental Agency fees rarely, if ever, constitute an increase in the rental price. It is “the cost of doing business” that property owners are accustomed to when hiring a management company. Usually it is a percentage based on the price of the monthly rent, and this percentage is more or less an ‘industry standard’. Rental prices are calculated by a comparative market analysis, a common system used by all licensed Real Estate Brokers.
(5) A property owner would never, in their right mind, rent their real property to people which they, or a trusted representative, has never met. Just think about that for a minute: if you owned a home, would you do it? No way… this is definitely a red flag!
(6) Scam artists tend to be overly polite, wordy, or expressive in their communication, much more so than an agency or valid landlord. No one in this day and age has the time or inclination to divulge an inordinate amount of personal information or personal circumstances in an initial inquiry or lead. Usually leads are responded to with quick, concise verbiage that instructs the inquirer to take the next step ~ typically instructing you to follow up by telephone to schedule a viewing, or directing you to more information or rental application procedures outlined on a website.
(7) Other vital red flags in rental listing scams include grainy, vague pictures of the property listed, or pictures from Google Maps. Some scams include pictures that do not fit the typography of the region: would a property on the Russian River have 9 foot high french windows, gleaming white stucco and a red tiled roof with patio overlooking the Mediterranean Sea?

Also, MOST IMPORTANTLY, if the responding person instructs you to send the security deposit by wire transfer or Western Union Moneygram, before you view the inside of the property, that is a red flag. And last, but not least, aggressive tactics or wording to pressure you into complying with their terms by using deadlines or veiled threats is never appropriate or acceptable.

So, what was the outcome of this scenario? Well, a couple of more people called us to express their concern and immediately we reported the scam to Zillow.com. The very real and scary thing about this scam in particular, is that the listing we posted was valid. Our contact information was included. But in submitting an inquiry from the Zillow.com platform, the message was intercepted by what we can only assume is a virus in their system, sending the inquiry to this third party that was trying to make the scam. We did not hear back from Zillow.com, but instead, broke the link to the listing from our end, and then resubmitted a day later. That seemed to have solved the problem, but now we are wiser in knowing that it could potentially happen again.

Be aware, be vigilant, and use the rule of thumb, “If it’s too good to be true, it IS!”

Written by Alexandria Goodman, D & G Equity Management, Inc. alex@riverhomes.com
Dated February 19, 2016

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