Scams, unfortunately, are likely when it comes to advertised rental properties. Your own listing is not immune from dishonest people and the money they try to make off you and your potential tenants. Here’s a common one: Imagine finding your Killeen rental property listed on a site like Craigslist when you didn’t post it there. Maybe you always avoid using Craigslist for your marketing because you know there’s a higher risk of scams.
But, there it is.
There are the pictures you took.
There is the description you wrote.
It looks exactly like your listing, but if this is similar to the scam we most likely see, two things will be different: the contact information and the price. The price will likely be dramatically lower. It will probably be unbelievably low, but desperate tenants will find it attractive.
This is a scenario that happens more often than you might imagine. Not only is it bad for you, because your listing has been stolen it’s also bad for the tenants who are also being scammed. They’re likely to think they’re getting a great deal. They’ll hand over a deposit or money even if something seems off.
You might find these tenants outside your property, planning to move in because they’ve paid someone else a deposit.
It’s a situation that can leave both tenants and owners feeling helpless.
We’re going to talk about some of the most common scams to be aware of, and give you some tips on how to respond.
How to Spot a Rental Scam in Killeen
Scammers prey on tenants who are likely feeling overwhelmed trying to find a home they like in the budget they have. It’s a lot of work, scrolling through ads and scheduling showings. When they come across what looks like a great deal, they’re going to get in touch.
If something looks too good to believe, it probably is. A four bedrooms, three bathroom home with a large yard is unlikely to ever rent for $700. But, that’s the kind of ad that will pop up, and people will clamor to rent it.
Here are some of the most popular rental scams that the Federal Trade Commission has been tracking:
- Hijacked Ads Online
This is similar to the scenario we opened with earlier in our blog. You’ll find scammers who hijack a real rental listing. All they have to do is change the email address or phone number in the ad. When people get in touch, the scammer asks for money up front in order to rent the house, claiming that it can’t be seen right now for one reason or another.
- Phantom Rentals
Sometimes, scammers will create a listing around a home that isn’t even for rent. The property might not even exist. But, tenants will be drawn to the ad for the low rent, fantastic amenities, and seemingly easy rental terms. Before that tenant realizes it’s a scam, they’ve given hundreds or even thousands of dollars to the scammer.
Here’s how you can spot a scam:
- Someone requests that money is wired. This will always suggest a scam because you know as a landlord you’re never going to ask for money in order to show a property. No one will collect first month’s rent or a security deposit without a signed lease agreement. Unfortunately, wiring money is the same as handing over cash. It’s impossible to get back once it’s sent.
- The property can’t be shown. Scammers will ask interested tenants to drive by or take a look at the property from the outside. They’ll ask for a security deposit before the home is shown and offer a lease agreement with the home not being seen. This might trigger a sense of suspicion in a potential tenant, but if the scammer is good at what they do, they’ll make it sound reasonable.
- The scammer claims to be out of the country. They’ll reassure the tenants that there’s someone who will deliver the keys. Sometimes, scammers go so far as to create fake keys.
Everyone likes to think they’d never fall for a scam. But, it happens more frequently that you would imagine. So let’s talk about what you want to do when you do find your property has been used as a pawn in a rental scam.
Report the Rental Scam to Authorities
When you find that your Killeen rental property has been advertised by someone who is not you, it’s important to contact the authorities right away.
Report the issue to the Federal Trade Commission and to local law enforcement. Provide information that documents you are the rightful owner of the property. Show them the ad and the contact information so they can begin an investigation.
Report the Rental Scam to the Website
You’ll want to flag the listing as fraudulent as soon as possible. Having the fraudulent listing taken down as soon as you can will minimize the damage it does. When it comes to your attention that someone has stolen your listing in order to scam potential tenants, contact the host site. It’s typically going to be a site like Craigslist or some other free platform. But you may also find them on paid sites like Zillow and Zumper.
Put your notification in writing and include photos of the fake listing. You might have to do some follow up; there is no telling how long it will take a site to respond to the information you provide. Be persistent until you get the fake listing taken down.
Protecting Yourself from Killeen Rental Scams
Technology has done a lot to help us in the rental industry. We’re able to lease properties faster, screen tenants more thoroughly, collect rent online, and keep in touch through various platforms. Maintenance requests are better tracked and all inspections can be easily documented.
We love technology.
However, technology has also made it easier for people to get away with schemes and scams.
Rental ads lifted from the internet in these ways are damaging to the industry, to the tenants who may never be able to get back the money they threw away, and to your reputation as a rental property owner. Sometimes these listings include your name, photo, and contact information. It lends authority and legitimacy to the fraudulent listing.
This might make you look like part of the problem. It damages your reputation. In an extreme case where the tenant who has been jilted is suing, you could be named in a lawsuit.
Criminals are getting smarter, and they know how to leverage technology to their advantage. You need to be diligent in avoiding these scams. Here’s what we recommend:
- Set up Google Alerts on every property listing you put on the internet. Google Alerts will send you a notification just about every single time the listing address is used online. These alerts can let you know immediately if you’re being scammed or if your listing is showing up in ways that it should not.
- Consider setting up another alert on If This, Then That. This is a website used by The National Association of REALTORS®. It’s an excellent backup for Google Alerts, especially since Google does not deliver information from sites like Craigslist.
- Use a watermark on all of the photos associated with your listing. That will give your real listing credibility that fake listings don’t have. If someone tries to steal your photos, they will have to work around that watermark, and the scammers won’t want to bother with that. They’ll look for an easier target.
- Always include your name and contact information so tenants know exactly who they are contacting.
- Consider leasing your home through a Killeen property management company. We have systems in place to protect you and your property from being a target of one of these scams.
You may eventually hear from tenants who fell for the scam and believe they have rented your property. Explain the situation and refer them to law enforcement or any of the other agencies we mentioned so they can try to get back any money they lost.
Support from Killeen Property Managers
We are not completely immune from scams as a Killeen property management company. However, tenants understand the risk that’s out there, and they’ll sometimes go directly to a property management company when they’re looking for a new home. They don’t want to waste their time on the scams that may show up out on rental websites that are difficult to monitor.
Property managers also have the resources to track and address any scam listings that they find. If you’re stuck on your own trying to remove a fraudulent listing while still renting out your legitimate home, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Property managers have more resources and far more connections in their professional network to take care of the issue quickly.
We don’t want to see you or your potential tenants fall victim to these scams. Contact us at Shine Residential Management to talk about how we can help protect you.
A property management company based in Harker Heights, Shine Residential Management cares for exceptional single-family homes throughout Central Texas, including in Killeen, Temple, Belton, Copperas Cove, Salado, and Georgetown.