Most of us think we won’t be duped by a scammer, but these people are good at what they do and desperation sometimes causes us to bypass our common sense. With the rental market in Ukiah as tight as it is, people are frantic to find a place to live, which can cause them to take risks they usually wouldn’t consider.
While I’m reluctant to write an article about this—because it will educate scammers as well as potential victims—this is so common now that anyone of a criminal nature already knows about it.
Here’s how the scam works. Let’s say you need to find a place to rent. The last four rentals you called about were rented yesterday, and then you see an ad on Craigslist and it sounds perfect. You call the number and a sweet-sounding lady answers the phone. She explains that the house was listed for sale, but the listing expired. She gives you the address but insists that you NOT talk to the real estate company. She says she’s not happy with her agent and does not plan to re-list.
She apologizes that she can’t meet with you because she’s on the East Coast with a dying relative, but suggests that you go by the property and peer in the windows. If you like it, send a check for the security deposit and first month’s rent.
On move-in day, she says she’ll have a friend meet you at the residence with the keys. You give notice at your current residence and prepare to move. You pack up everything you own and call your five best friends with pick-ups to bring your belongings to your new home, only to discover the house is already occupied by the people who bought it and closed escrow two days ago.
Bottom line: your $3500 is gone and everything you own is in the back of friends’ pick-ups. I would like to tell you what to do in this situation to recoup your money. Unfortunately, I can’t because there is no way to know where to find the scammers who took your money and ran.
The best advice I can give you is to be skeptical. If someone is not available to meet you at a property and provide you with access to the interior, that should raise a red flag. Even then, things can go wrong. The current tenant can pose as the homeowner and run the scam. When your Spidey sense (think Spiderman) starts tingling, pay attention. If someone asks for cash rather than a check, be skeptical. If the rent seems too low, be skeptical. If you’re told to peer in the windows instead of getting a tour, be skeptical.
If you want to know who owns the property, ask your Realtor—he or she can check county records and find out. Talk to the neighbors to see what they know.
Realty World Property Management manages about 800 residential units. Right now, as soon as a rental unit is vacated, it is leased to a new tenant almost instantly. This is partly because we keep properties in excellent condition, but the truth is, landlords who do not keep their properties in great condition are also able to rent their properties quickly.
The moral of the story is: if a rental situation seems too good to be true, it probably is.
As a side note on the scam issue, if you’re wiring money when buying a house, be sure you’re sending it to the right account. Realtors’ and escrow company emails have been hacked and the hackers are sending false wire instructions for clients to wire money to. Be aware, get independent verification of wire instructions before you send money. To the best of my knowledge this has not happened in Ukiah…yet.
If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.realtyworldselzer.com. If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.