Rental Fraud, Landlord Fraud, and Prospective Tenant Scams

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I don't do rental agency, but I do I work with people to get them to the point where they are ready to buy. I recently got this email from a single mother I'm trying to get into a position to buy

Hi Dan,

An opportunity came up for a 4 bedroom house to rent. It's actually a "too good to be true" opportunity. The rent is only $1400 (only $150 more than what I am paying already) and it is in DELETED. I would still be able to save some money to buy a house plus we would be comfortable in the process. Anyways, I was hoping you could read the response from the owner and tell me what you think. I was also hoping you had a way of checking to make sure this house isn't in foreclosure. That would be a nightmare. To move into a house and then get evicted or worse.

As always thank you for your time and generosity.

The email is below. I'm sure you'll agree it has all the hallmarks of those Nigerian 419 scammer emails.

Hi Thanks for the email. I DELETED owns the house and also it is situated and also want you to know that it was due to my transfer that makes me and my family to leave the house and also want to give it out for rent and looking for a responsible person that can take a very good care of it as we are not after the money for the rent but want it to be clean all the time and the possible tenant will see the house as his or her own. We have left the US and we are currently in the West Africa for a program called 'World Conference Against Racism Youth Summit, Empowering youth for combating racism, HIV/AIDS, Poverty and Lack of Education, the program is taking place in three major countries in Africa which is Sudan, Ghana and Nigeria. It as been a very sad and bad moment for me, the present condition that I found myself is very hard for me to explain. If you will be the right tenant to our house, we will get the keys and documents of the house sent to you via courier services as soon as all terms are settled.

HOUSE ADDRESSES : DELETED. 4 Bedroom, 2 Bath, 2 Car attached garage. Nicely upgraded house on a Cul-De-Sac in quiet Santee neighborhood. Remodeled kitchen with Granite countertops, Refrigerator, Microwave, Dishwasher, and Gas Range included. Remodeled master bathroom and fireplace with marble tile. Mirror closets in all bedrooms. Laminate wood and tile floors, carpet in the bedrooms. Central A/C. Large backyard with a nice view of the mountains and city lights. Close to shopping centers and schools.

All types of pet allowed and Additional monthly charge of $80 for pets.....You can drive down there to take a look at it and also Available now!.

I will be online through out to get back to you as soon as you are able to get back to me. I would want to know how soon you would want to move in, as I will be taking a 2 month upfront payment which mean the first and second third months you will be staying in the house including some utilities (Electricity, Water, Internet and Garbage). I am asking for $1400 and I believe we should be able to help ourselves. I am accepting $1400 including utilities because I want you to take a very good care of the house while I am away.

I am looking forward to hear from you ASAP so that i can forward you an application to fill out and discuss on how to get the house rent over to you so that I can get the keys and papers sent to you via FedEx or ups e.t.c, also are you ready to rent it now or when? Await your reply. I will be willing to send the inside view of the building if you demands for it.

I could let you remain in the house till I come back if you are a good tenant and
you can reach me on DELETED PHONE NUMBER.

Thanks and God bless you..

My response:

The name given is the name of the actual owner of record. There is no Notice of Default flag in that portion of the public records I have access to via MLS (it's been known to be mistaken, but is most of the time it's spot on).

With that said, I don't practice rental agency, but my understanding is the maximum they can collect up front is the deposit plus one month rent.

Furthermore, a situation like this where they are "out of the country" is rife with potential for fraud. There is a lot of rental fraud out there right now. Run "rental fraud" and "landlord fraud" through a search engine for articles. It's just as easy for scammers to look up who the owner of record is as it is for anyone else. They also can get the information from legitimate ads. My advice to you is to ask for their local agent, make sure they have agency authority (the document is easily understandable) and are licensed and bonded, and deal with that agent.

Otherwise, you could very easily find yourself in a situation where you have wired several thousand dollars to a scammer in another country. This situation and the email you got rings all of the alarm bells of any 419 scam. It could be legitimate, but everything I am reading tells me BEWARE!

Yes, you might lose a sweet deal. But you also have thousands of dollars at risk in a situation rife with opportunity for fraud. This is not a subject where I am really competent to advise.

The lady emailed me back

Hi Dan,

There have been a lot of conflicting stories since I wrote you earlier today. Last night we drove by the house and it was obvious that someone is living there. I received a second email from the "owner" telling me that the house is vacant. I drove by there tonight and got up the nerve to knock on the door. The new tenants were living there and had been living there since March 1. I think what happened was someone saw the original posting on Craigs List, used that info to create a dummy listing. This is truly heinous. I'm glad I'm smarter than the crook that is doing this scam. I'm going to back to Craigs List and report them before they cheat someone out of thousands of dollars.

Happy ending for this one, but every day people get taken by scams like this one. Your protection against this (when the owner is not local enough to meet and show the property themselves) is to use a licensed bonded rental agency. Yes, insisting upon this protection might possibly mean that you miss out on a really sterling rental deal, but it's far more likely to mean that you miss out on wiring several thousand dollars to a scammer you'll never be able to track down when it turns out they had no authority to rent the property.

Caveat Emptor

Article UPDATED here


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Martin said:

I have always felt that a potential tenant should always check the public records to determine who the owner of a property is and demand a paper trail showing that whoever is renting it out has the authority to do so.

Unfortunately, residential tenants almost never do this.

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on March 31, 2009 7:00 AM.

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