Before you decide to rent your next apartment you might want to make sure you do your research and talk to the owners face to face.
Would you give a stranger off the street first and last months rent if he promised you could house sit while he went off on an urgent business trip? Umm, we didn’t think so. Then how are so many people getting pulled into online rental ad scams that do just that?
Online criminal theft isn’t a new concept. You all remember those emails that reeked of scam with people from halfway around the world saying they were royalty and they needed to deposit their money into our accounts in exchange for a percentage of their funds? We don’t know who fell for those but they quickly filled our email trash at one point.
This scheme is a little more elaborate and really hits those who are vulnerable.
Just imagine you’re desperately looking for a place to stay and you see an appealing online rental ad on Craigslist. The owner tells you all about the house you will be renting: lock, stock and barrel. Not only is it readily available, the price is sensible for what you’ll be getting. So, without thinking, you use a wire transfer service to send a large sum of money to the owner, who by the way is in Nigeria doing missionary work, to secure your place.
Thing is, you get to the residence and the REAL owners have no idea what you are talking about! So not only do you look like a fool, but you have just lost all your money (wire transfers cannot be traced to the person who picked them up). You are now a victim of the so-called 419 schemes, named after the Nigerian penal code section under which this particular kind of fraud is prosecuted.
In addition you have filled out fake paperwork that inquires about your social security number, full name, work history and credit history. The Nigerian crooks now have the ability to commit identity theft. You might not have anything left when they’re done with you!
These scams are common and quite profitable, probably because of the U.S. housing market where more people are renting instead of buying; and unfortunately they have become a huge problem in some areas. In South Carolina the FBI has officially issued warnings to homeowners and renters, encouraging them to look out for these solicitors.
The FBI is also giving these tips on how to spot the Nigerian criminal schemes:
- 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
- Don’t give out your personal information like your social security number, bank info and/or credit card numbers
- See we told you to talk to the owner face to face. Then you can pick him out in the line-up when he messes with your money. Or just go find him yourself. We like the latter!
– Christina Coleman