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July 30, 2009

FBI: Tell us about rental scams

A few months back, I warned you to be on the lookout for rental scams. Now the FBI, concerned about the problem, is asking people to report potential or definite rental scamming to its Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Here's what the FBI is seeing:

You can’t believe your good fortune—you find a rental home in a nice area through a Craigslist classified ad at an unbelievably low rate. The landlord—who had to leave the country and travel to Nigeria—asks that you wire him two months’ worth of rent. You arrive at the home on the agreed-upon date, but there’s just one small problem—the house is not actually for rent and its owners know nothing about your agreement.

Or the home is for rent, except not by the "landlord" who has your money.

Scammers are going after landlords, too. Wonk reader Lisa says she's had lots of scam replies to her rental ads: "Most typically, the scammers are in a huge rush to move, want to send a deposit immediately and so request your bank info."

The FBI offers these suggestions to avoid falling victim:

Only deal with landlords or renters who are local;

Be suspicious if you’re asked to only use a wire transfer service;

Beware of e-mail correspondence from the “landlord” that’s written in poor or broken English;

Research the average rental rates in that area and be suspicious if the rate is significantly lower;

Don’t give out personal information, like social security, bank account, or credit card numbers.

You know the drill: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Landlording, Renting


When I was looking for a place to move into earlier this summer, a lot of times I would respond to ads that would direct me to a "credit-reporting" website that I had to sign up for before the "landlord" would set an appointment to show the apartment or give any additional information. Eventually I caught on to the format of the ads, but it was annoying that 2 out of 3 ads that I clicked on Craigslist ended up being scams or misrepresentations.

This says it all "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." These scams work because people see a great deal or opportunity and jump on it without thinking.

The signs are usually pretty evident. You should NEVER wire money to someone you have not verified, especially given all the scams with wiring funds going on these days. I had an experience with this a few months ago on Craiglist (nothing to do with rental properties) and I forwarded it to the FBI. A good rule of thumb is to just do some research and be suspicious. I would never rent to or rent from someone I have never met.

I hate to see these things happen, but this is the world we live in these days. There really is not too much anyone can do when it's overseas transactions like we are seeing in Nigeria and related countries.

Yes, I had a similiar situation where the pictures looked great and the "landlord" said I had to get a credit report first and then would set up an appointment. After I did get the report (which only cost a processing fee of $1.00, because I cancelled so that I won't be charged $39.99 monthly) I didn't hear back abou the place.

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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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