Gone are the days of having to call your local newspaper to list your rental property for rent. The Internet has once again disrupted another industry and changed the way we do business. Various listing sites and Craigslist have become the go-to destinations for prospective tenants looking for a place to rent.
With new technology comes new challenges and threats that landlords need to be aware of and guard against. The most common threat often comes from people sitting in some Internet cafe on another continent trying to make a quick buck at your expense.
The scam usually goes like this:
The criminal downloads your pictures and the description of the property and then uploads them to craigslist. They drop the rent 25%-50% below the market and weave the story that they are the owners of the property and have had to leave the country suddenly for work.
Since they are out of the country, they will get the prospective tenant to wire them the security deposit and first month’s rent. Once the money is sent, they go dark. Since it’s a wire transfer transfer and the bank account is offshore, the scam is done. It is not uncommon to do this two or three times on the same property before anyone figures it out.
The best way to guard against this scam is to watermark every picture you take and post of the property. Put either your phone number or company website as the watermark. There are several free websites, such as Water Marquee, that you can use to do this. This single simple step will make you virtually immune to having your home targeted for this scam as the criminal will simply keep looking for another home that has pictures that are not watermarked.
Yard signs are also quickly becoming a thing of the past. Yes, some people do still see the signs and will make a phone call because of the sign. This can result in finding some great tenants, but criminals also see those signs! Yard signs have become little more than advertisements for an empty home, saying “Please rob me!” This can put you in danger of being targeted for one of the following scams:
They will break into the house, open up the garage door and back a truck in and load it up with whatever they can get out of your home quickly. You then show up for a showing and find your home has been robbed.
The False Move-In
This is the worst case scenario. Someone will break in and move themselves into your property overnight. They will then get the water, gas and electricity turned on in their own name and then create a fake lease, complete with your forged signature and wait for you or the cops to arrive. Once the police arrive they show the signed lease and utility bill to the officer. The officer will then inform you that they are not trespassing but are tenants and the officer is not qualified to unwind the situation. You then get to file eviction paperwork and wait 45-90 days for an unlawful detainer to be issued and the sheriff’s deputy to arrive and give you back possession of your own property.
Because of these two types of scams, and the high visibility the Internet has given to rental listings, it is our opinion that you should not place a yard sign on your property.
As you do your showings it is helpful to provide a 1 page marketing flyer with your contact information on it and how the prospective tenant can apply for the property. You should also have your key requirements listed to qualify to rent the property and the steps in the process between applying for the rental and actually moving in clearly spelled out. This helps the prospective tenant understand your process and it helps you defend yourself should the prospective tenant feel they were treated unfairly and then decide to file a claim with Fair Housing accusing you of discrimination.
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