- MSN Real Estate: "Renters: Beware of new twists on an old scam"
- CBS News Money Watch: "Housing scams target renters"
- King5 Seattle: "Scammers trying to rent out homes they don't own"
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
There's a rotten scam that is preying upon many needy Americans looking for places to rent. In one variation of this scam, a con artist gets detailed information about a home that is up for sale and then goes to Craigslist or other sources and publishing a rental listing as if that person were the owner. The price is often surprisingly low. When a would-be renter responds, the owner claims to be in another state or country and asks for a deposit to be sent electronically and then they will mail the keys or arrange for someone locally to give them the keys. The renter loses the deposit. Some of the variations of this scan are even more convincing and troublesome. If you are renting a home from a stranger, know what to do and what to look for. Here are some good resources:
I just spoke with a woman in the Midwest who was nearly taken by one of these scams, and surprisingly blessed by it, sort of. It's a woman with special needs kids who has been abandoned by her doctor husband who has been able to hide his income in order to avoid child support (apparently he gets almost nothing as salary, but his assistant gets paid a lot, and she happens to be his new wife). The abandoned woman just received notice that her home has been foreclosed and she has to be out by Christmas eve. Due to bankruptcy, finding a place that will take her has been difficult, but her hopes were high with a low-cost place she found listed online. It seemed perfect and the "owner" in distant Texas was ready to give it to her once she wired a deposit to him.
When she drove by to check it out, she noticed that the home was for sale, which raised some doubts. When she called a real estate agent to ask if that meant trouble, this common scam was explained to her. The bonus blessing came when the agent also explained that the requirement to move out by Dec. 24 was not absolute, and that she did not have to move until there was a formal eviction notice, and that many times even in a foreclosed home in that State people are able to continue living in their homes for many months. Of course, there are some other factors to consider (see Nolo's Foreclosure Timeline). For example, if you overstay and force the owner to sue to evict you, that will become part of your public record and may be far more harmful than bankruptcy in making future landlords unwilling to rent to you. But the woman feels blessed to have learned that she may have a few more months, thanks to the events triggered by the scam. Interesting.
The situation, though, is a mess and very sad. Divorce causes so much pain and poverty in this world.