Dangers of Rental Scams
Rental scams not only target people looking for a place to rent, but also target property owners as well.
Those who are already offering their property for lease or rent are particularly vulnerable to these scams. This is even more of a risk for properties that are in highly desirable coastal areas such as Newport Beach or Laguna, Beach California.
Red flags to beware of are the following:
1) Rent that seems well above the going market rate for similar properties in the same area.
2) Rent that seems too good to be true, well below the market rate for similar properties.
3) Renters who require payments by cashier’s check claiming that they are out of the country, or that they have an urgency for renting quickly without explanation.
4) Renters who will not make the property available but encourage a deposit nonetheless, with the explanation that the property is in such high demand that only a deposit will secure the rental.
5) Spelling and grammar errors in the listing (particularly spellings that indicate that it was written by someone outside the U.S., e.g., colour instead of color.)
Scammers will often copy legitimate listings to perpetuate their scam or list homes which are not on the market and which they have no connection to at all. As always, remember your Latin: caveat emptor, (i.e., let the buyer beware). When possible, demand to see the property before going forward. If you can’t visit the property yourself, send a friend or relative or other proxy. And remember, renting is a substantial risk in all resort areas across the country, but especially the aforementioned highly desirable California coastal areas including Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, and Newport Coast.
In 2016 Huntington Beach Police reported on their Facebook page a rental scam where a fraudulent listing was placed on Apartments.com in which victims who responded were told to send a deposit via Money Gram. It was found that this listing was copied from a true listing then used to trick people into paying the scammer believing they were dealing with the property owner.
Throughout Orange County there have been reports of scammers doing copied listing properties for less than the actual listing price to get victims to jump on the deal, paying the scammers before the victim realizes the truth. One such property was listed in a fake listing as part of a scam for $900 a month when it was really renting for $2,500 a month. Another in the city of Orange was told to pay a $200 deposit and first month’s rent of $1,200 only to later discover the property was actually listed by the true broker for $1,495 a month.
Scammers insist on methods of payment that are not reversible so it is difficult or impossible for victims to get their money back. And do not engage in written contracts to prevent the “paper trail”. When caught, these scammers claim any money paid was for another purpose. Always use common sense and demand that all transactions in writing list the property for rent.
USA.gov, Scams and Frauds, Housing Scams
Rentcafe Blog, A Guide to Recognizing and Avoiding Rental Scams
The Orange County Register, Tenants Beware: Rent Scams Proliferating
Facebook, Huntington Beach Police Department