Online Rental Scams

Now crooks want to rent you an apartment that isn’t theirs to rent.

You need an apartment and you need it now. So you look online and find one that looks like a real deal—reasonable rent, utilities included, maybe even free cable TV and Internet access. Even the photos are nice. Oh, your pets can move right in, too.

One word of advice (OK, two actually) BE CAREFUL!

Online rental fraud is growing. These criminals are mostly found in Nigeria, the U.K. and the U.S. They’ll take your information, your identity and then your money.

They have it down to a science.

Online rental fraud starts with a listing, most often on a free listing site because it costs them ZERO and they don’t have to provide their own credit card number. The address is probably real. And those beautiful photos? Probably boosted from somewhere on the Internet. They may even use an actual listing and just make it their own at about half the price.

Everything is done via email. You’ll get a quick reply to your inquiry. Your “landlord” may say he’s been assigned overseas or is doing volunteer work for a noble cause. He may even direct you to a legitimate website, although he really has nothing to do with the organization. He’ll tell you about all the wonderful amenities that are included and how important it is to have a responsible tenant. He may email you a seemingly appropriate list of questions: Your name, address and phone. Any pets? Cars? Move in date? And because you’ve responded to the online listing, he already has your email address. He won’t even ask for money. Yet.

OK, here it comes.

Quicker than you can say, “I’ve been scammed” you’ll get a reply saying you’ve been approved. All you need to do is send the first month’s rent and a security deposit and he’ll send you the keys, the lease documents and a receipt. He could ask for a credit card number or a check, and even your social security number.

STOP!

Let’s list all the personal information you’ve given this complete stranger: your full name, address, email address, phone number, credit card or checking account number, and maybe even your social security number. In the end, you still won’t have an apartment and the fraudster could be driving a brand new car—in your name.

Don’t be a victim. Use your common sense. If they’re from Nigeria it’s a flag. If their English is grossly incorrect it’s a flag. And if the deal is too good to be true, it probably isn’t. Make sure you see the actual apartment and meet face to face with the landlord. Then move in, kick back and enjoy the cable TV, which you’ll probably have to pay for on your own.

Federal Trade Commission. “Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book For
January – December 2011.” February 2012.

Javelin Strategy & Research. "2012 Identity Fraud Report: Social Media and Mobile Forming
the New Fraud Frontier." February 2012.