I recently visited the Anderson Districts I & II Career and Technology Center‘s Computer Repair and Networking Class, where I presented on the importance of end-user education in keeping users safe online, explained my work with AVG Technologies, and fielded some questions in a Q&A session with the students.
One thing that came up during that presentation was an anecdotal story from one of the students, who said his family were nearly victims of a home rental scam on Craigslist. I’ve heard similar stories from others recently, and another AVG Community member who actively helps on the AVG Facebook page encountered one as he was searching for an apartment.
Considering how renting property you don’t own seems to be all the rage amongst cyber criminals as of late, I thought I would share some tips to help you avoid these clever criminal entrepreneur’s schemes.
- As Craigslist already suggests as a golden rule in any transaction, deal locally. It is unlikely that the owner of a rental property will live ridiculously far from the property being rented. So there’s no reason that the landlord shouldn’t be able to meet with you in person if the property is local.
- Look for the hallmarks common to any scam:
- A convoluted back-story to provide a series of ridiculous excuses to avoid transacting in person.
- Requests for wire transfers.
- Assurance of a guarantee on your transaction (Craigslist provides no such guarantee).
- A poor command of the English language (grammar and spelling).
- View the property and meet the owner in person. If you’re moving far away from your current location and cannot deal locally I would recommend talking extensively with any purported property owner by e-mail first, looking for any of the signs mentioned above. By pre-screening you can weed out any scams before you waste your time and money traveling to see property you can’t rent or own.
- Speak with the neighbors when you view a property in person. Chances are they will know about the owner of the property, and can probably tell you if it is indeed the person you encountered in your e-mail correspondence. They will also be able to tell you if the property is really available or if it is currently occupied, a sure sign that you’re being ripped off.
- Don’t send off personal information via e-mail before knowing you’re dealing with a reputable individual who does indeed own the property you’re interested in.
- Don’t agree to having keys mailed to you for a self-guided walk-through for a small fee. This is also a common tactic across scams renting property they don’t own. This suggestion will of course be accompanied by the aforementioned convoluted back-story to explain why they cannot be there in person.
- Cross check with other rental or realty listing sources. If property really is for rent or sale it will likely be listed in several places. But be aware that the scams sometimes try to pass off for sale properties as for rent. Just because it is for rent or sale doesn’t mean you’re really speaking with the owner.
- Be on the lookout for deals that are just too good to be true. It’s easier to convince people to do something dangerous like wiring money to strangers if they feel like they’re passing up an amazing deal if they don’t. Even if it’s not a scam, if the price looks too good to be true there are probably some issues you need to know about the property.
- Last but not least, go with your gut! If your instincts tell you something’s not right, trust them and back away from the transaction. Better safe than sorry!
By following the advice contained in these few simple tips, you can identify and avoid housing scams and rental scams on Craigslist, and feel confident in your digital search for shelter!