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May 21, 2009

Renters, landlords: scams to watch out for

So you're a renter and you've found an ad for a place with a price that's fabulously low. Or you're trying to rent out your home and just got an email from a prospective tenant willing to send you a deposit sight unseen.

Uh oh.

A word to the wise: Scammers have infiltrated the rental market. It's a slightly more sophisticated effort than the "help me get my money out of a bank account and I'll pay you millions" emails from Nigeria. has examples of questionable emails from supposed renters and landlords. The typical scammer-renter sends a cashier's check that's too high, says "whoops" and asks you to refund the difference -- and after you do, you find out that the original check was a fake. The typical scammer-landlord asks you to send a deposit and promises to send you the keys -- but never does.

Here's what the site says to watch out for in emails.

The major red flags of any scam are:
* Outside of the US
* Misspellings
* Wanting Payments – Cashiers Check, FEDEX, etc
* Unable to personally show you the property
* Is traveling on business and will just send you the keys

Has anyone run into a scam like this?

A colleague once showed me emails from someone claiming to want to buy his house, and it had all the hallmarks. "Send me your bank account information to faciliate the transaction," etc. So home sellers: Keep these warnings in mind, too.

Update: Wonk reader Matt Gonter says he sees ads for suspiciously cheap Baltimore apartments -- like a newly renovated two-bedroom, two-bath, heated two-car-garage condo for $600 a month -- all the time on Craigslist.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 11:19 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Landlording, Renting


As a landlord, I've had numerous replies from scammers to my rental ads. I now routinely ask all inquiries to tell me more about themselves before revealing anything, even my full name!!... if they are a scammer, more glaring spelling and grammer mistakes often appear in the reply... whereas the original email may have been canned and less prone to errors. Sometimes, their reply will hardly make sense at all, i.e. their questions do not fit with the property in your ad. I.e. one repeatedly asked about the "room" I was renting after I carefully explained that it was a house, not a "room".
I'm not averse to inquiries from abroad, since universities in the Baltimore area frequently attract people on sabbatical leave or foreign researchers, but some scammers can be pretty sophistocated. One scammer listed their name, a formal title and name of hospital in London where they presumably worked (believable in that there are so many med facilities in Balt.) .. in googling the hospital concerned, it turned out that it was a real one but the phone number given for it was fake, not even close to the right area code.
Most typically, the scammers are in a huge rush to move, want to send a deposit immediately and so request your bank info. Heaven forbid the day they get more sophistocated and learn better English.. it might be much more difficult to figure out who's legit. Googling the names on inquiries has thus far proved to be very helpful.

Jamie, these rental scammers ticked me off so much I decided to create a rental scam quiz so people could get a score and see if they are being scammed or not. Hope it can help someone.

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About Jamie Smith Hopkins
Jamie Smith Hopkins, a Baltimore Sun reporter since 1999, writes about the regional economy. Her reporting on the housing market has won national and local awards. Hopkins is a Columbia native and has lived in Maryland all her life, save for 10 months spent covering schools in Ames, Iowa.
She trained to become a wonk by spending large chunks of time as a geek and an insufferable know-it-all.
Baltimore Sun articles by Jamie

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