Are You Getting Scammed? What to Watch For

2013-12-28

Are You Getting Scammed? What to Watch For

If Something Seems Amiss — Or Too Good To Be True — It Probably Is.

A man with the phone number 1-800-SCA-MMER in front of him.You’ve probably seen stories on the news about renters getting targeted by zany scams on Craigslist and similar sites — but you rarely hear about the scammers that target landlords, and they’re surprisingly common. Getting scammed can do serious damage to landlords or property management companies if they’re not alert.

False Check Refunds
Any time anyone gives you check, overpays, and asks you to send them the overage is probably scamming you — and this happens quite regularly to landlords. Especially if a tenant attempts to overpay for their security deposit or first month’s rent and asks for a ‘partial refund’ or some such, you’re about to get scammed. The check is almost always a fake, and the tenant is going to vanish on you the moment they get the money.

Lawsuit Fakery
There are a lot of excuses that a tenant can come up with for a lawsuit. Sometimes these scammers sign the lease agreement with malice aforethought, just looking for an excuse to sue — other times, a shady tenant will get the idea to sue you for some faked-up reason. They’ll make up something that sounds dangerous — black mold in the ductwork, possible lead paint or plumbing, or asbestos — and file a lawsuit.

Even when the false allegations get untangled and the tenants lose, they get month after month of rent-free living for the cost of filing the lawsuit, and the court will keep you from evicting them until it’s all been settled. By then, they’re gone, and while you can theoretically sue them for the lost rent, they almost always have no assets or detectable income.

Using Your Listing for Their Purposes
There are any number of complex, long-game scams that criminals will try to draw Internet surfers into — and one of the ways they do it is by using pictures and descriptions from actual listings. They’ll create a fake listing that seems too good to be true, and divert potential tenants away from your legitimate listing, scam them for thousands of dollars, and leave them cold.

This is dangerous because not only are you losing prospects, but you can very easily be traced back to the address, description, and picture they stole, which can lead the cops to you fairly easily. To protect yourself, the moment you suspect this may have happened, use Google to perform a Reverse Image Search on your home picture — you can often catch the fake listing before it comes down and point the cops in the right direction.

Protecting Yourself
Protecting yourself from these rental scams isn’t complicated, but it takes a bit of forethought.

  • Don’t Publish Every Detail: For example, publish only the intersection that the home is on, not the full address, and encourage serious prospects to call for the rest of the details.
  • Use Google Voice: By using a Google Voice number instead of your actual phone number for receiving calls and texts, you get a record of every incoming call and text, which can be invaluable when pursuing scammers.
  • Watermark Your Pictures: Simple watermarking software is out there for free — watermark every picture you put up with the name of your company and/or the website you’re putting the photo up on.
  • Check Tenants’ Civil Case History: Civil case records are public records, which means you can tell in minutes if a prospective tenant has ever sued a landlord before. If they have, it’s often wise to turn them away — there are plenty of prospects out there who don’t have any ‘scammer’ red flags in their history.

Landlords tend to be wealthier, which means they’ll always be prime targets for a certain class of criminal. Keep your eyes open and your mind alert, and you can avoid falling victim to these miscreants.

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