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What a deal! The ad on Craigslist says this landlord is renting a house that would normally rent for $2100 a month for just $1500! Where do you sign up? He seems like an honest, forthright guy. After all, he is on a mission in Africa and just wants to rent his house to a “good” person. He also doesn’t want to gouge that “good” person, so he has set the rent at a price that is “reasonable.” You know you are a good person, so you qualify. What a lucky find! You can hardly wait to find out about this rental.

In order to deal with him, you need to use email. He doesn’t have any phone service. All you need to do is wire him the deposit and first and last months’ rent. Then he will send you the keys. This must be legitimate, you think, because, after all, he is a religious man on a mission, and that requires true commitment.

If it sounds too good to be true, 99.9 percent of the time, it is. And if something else unusual is added to the mix, 100 percent of the time it is too good to be true. What we will look at here are rental scams, frauds on people looking to rent and looking at a deal that seems to be “too good to be true.”

Rentalscams.org provided the following list of “unusual” things to look for.

Does the email start out with Sir / Madam?

Are there misspellings in the email?

Are there character mistakes in the email? i.e Hello, my name is Susie.

Is there excessive capitalization?

Does the email reference God, UK, Cashiers Check, Doctor, Nigeria, Reverend, etc?

Is the email from a free email provider? i.e. gmail, yahoo, hotmail.

Does the “landlord” want money wired to him?

If the email has a majority of these commonalities, then the chances are very good it is a scammer.

Here is an actual email from a “landlord.”

Re: $900 / 3br – Single-Family Home3bedroom2bath (Huntington Beach, CA)


I can see you are interested in the ad I have pasted, I am currently in West Africa where I work as a volunteer with the VOICE OF CHILDREN MINISTRIES, INC. here is the site for more detail about why I am here in Africa..(http://www.vocministries.org/). I spent less time in the States so I could not get a hold on any Realtor to handle this rent issue, although it was when I knew how long we are going to stay in Africa that I decided to rent out the house…. However, the initial plan was to sale out the house. which I tried, but sometimes the agents inflates the price and it takes longer to sell i am telling you this incase if you find the house on another website, that is the old advert So I need a tenant to take care of it but since I am out of the state now, I have received some proposals regarding the rent because it is located in a very good area of Huntington Beach, but I still have to make sure it is rented out to someone who can take good care of it… It includes facilities such as water and heat laundry facilities, air condition, internet and telephone access and a car park and other necessary facilities, also comes with trash collection, pets are allowed as well as long as they are not destructive. So if you know you are capable of the task, get back to me so that I can provide you with some questions that I would want you to answer. below is the location,


Huntington Beach CA

I have kept all the errors of the actual email. This one meets most of the criteria that yell “fraud.”

Even so, the back and forth emails continued until the “landlord” told the prospective tenant that he would need first and last month’s rent and a security deposit wired to Africa. Then he would send the keys. This “landlord” was eager to rent to this person despite the fact that there were “several other people” interested.

He further explained in subsequent emails that no lease was necessary because the prospective tenant is a “good” person and didn’t need the services of a lawyer. Most important, this prospect couldn’t even see inside the house until the “landlord” got the money.

This is one typical rental scam. There are others. They all follow the same general pattern, though. They rely on the gullibility of people.

Sometimes the ad is for a legitimate rental that has been copied from Craigslist or another rental site, and the rent amount and contact information have been changed to that of the scammer. Other times a scammer finds a vacant house (often for sale), breaks in, runs an ad with rent too good to be true, and takes money from multiple prospective tenants. By the time the various “tenants” figure out they’ve been had, the scammer is long gone, on to his next fraud.

How can you avoid being scammed by one of these lowlifes?

First, never deal in cash. Most criminals want a difficult to trace payment. Wired money is like cash and gone forever. It may as well be 100 dollar bills Fed Exed to the scammer. Regular or Cashier’s checks are good. The police can trace who cashed them.

Always demand a lease. That is only good business. The advantage is that a lease shows what is expected of each party, landlord and tenant.   Sometimes a scammer will send an unsigned lease to the tenant with instructions to sign it and send it back for the landlord’s signature. Bad idea. The landlord and tenant should in an ideal situation both be present in person for the lease signing. If this were a legitimate situation, the landlord would sign first and mail it to the tenant.

Some states also require that if a rental owner lives more than a specified number of miles from the property, say 150 miles, he or she must hire a licensed property manager to manage the property. Knowing state law is a big help in a situation such as the scammer landlord, though often even legitimate landlords are unaware of the law.

Always see inside the property before agreeing to anything or especially sending money. If the “landlord” can’t do that, find something else.

If the rental unit is in an apartment complex, knock on some doors and ask about this supposed landlord. Then go to the rental office to see about the supposed unit for rent.

There’s an easy way to find out if this “landlord” is the owner. Many, if not most, counties have property ownership records online. Look up the address of the property and see who owns it. If it isn’t the person claiming to be the landlord, that’s a huge red flag.

Most important, know the average rental rates for the area. If the rent amount looks too good to be true, it most likely is.

One last thought, if this landlord is in Africa and has no phone, what happens when a water pipe breaks and the landlord can’t be reached? With no phone, and with email that may or may not be checked regularly, who you gonna call?

Yes, if it sounds too good to be true, 99.9 percent of the time, it is. Any red flag, such as having to wire money, no telephone conversation, inability to preview the property, or a “landlord” who doesn’t show up as the owner of the property on county records are bright crimson flags that say “Run! And find someone honest.”


By Robert L. Cain

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