We have had an increased frenzy of rental scams again lately. It's a real pain for everyone.
What happens is-- someone steals a listings photos, property description, and details from a legitimate posting online, reduces the price, and tries to intercept potential tenants and steal their deposit money while posing as a property owner, investor, or property manager. I had someone steal one of my rental listings this week, and here's even a cell screenshot of how this has been playing out via text between me (AKA "Susan") and the person who stole my listing and is trying to pass it off as their own.
So, how do you protect yourself from being scammed?
1) Ask the landlord to describe the property. Do they know the complete address and zip code? Can they describe the layout? Can they answer questions regarding the basic maintenance without fumbling over their words?
2) Check the tax records. If the person presenting the property for lease/sale is posing as the actual owner, does their name match the name of the person on the tax roll? They may give you a semi-believable story about "living out of state" or a "sick family member/emergency" but beware if you cannot ever meet them in person.
3) Will they meet you at the house in person? Most scammers won't, since they don't have a key. I did hear of one that actually had a key made, so even this isn't fool-proof.
4) IF IT SOUNDS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT PROBABLY IS!!! If the house is being offered for substantially less than normal, it as a really high risk of being a scam.
5) Do not EVER pay a deposit or rent with a gift card. That's usually how they try to collect funds. Gift cards aren't traceable, and once you send out the numbers on the card it's as good as spent. Again, if it sounds suspicious, be very leery.