Protect Yourself From Real Estate Rental Fraud | Whitman Legal Solutions, LLC

Leaving the local grocery store, I was bombarded with loud, amplified violin playing. In fact, it was his violin playing that was electric. The sound was so overwhelming that looking for sauces, from supermarkets to pharmacies to bakeries, seemed like walking through a large shopping center.

Finally, I saw a weathered, middle-aged man standing in the median of the parking lot lawn. He played his violin electric, amplified by what appeared to be a 1980s boombox.

His lawsuit was pending, he was unemployed and needed money to pay the rent, so there were signs asking for help supporting him and his children. It looked like they were busking. It’s a time-honored practice of fledgling musicians performing in public and hoping for donations to help with living expenses and musical training.

As I watched the man play music from Bach to bluegrass so well, something seemed wrong. Non-violinists may not realize it, but he didn’t play the violin. His bow was working, but he didn’t quite fit the music. His fingers weren’t playing the sound from the speakers. The man wasn’t doing street performance, but playing the violin, which is equivalent to lip-syncing.

Police in Montgomery County, Maryland, where my office is located, have warned residents of scammers posing as street performers. Donors were exposed to credit card fraud, according to the alert, as these scammers were not just asking for cash, they were using electronic payments. A National Public Radio report expressed concern that real musicians could be harmed not only by fake buskers, but also by the resulting loss of public confidence in giving performers money. manifesting.

Unfortunately, street performer scams are the only way scammers get money from unsuspecting people. Rent fraud is on the rise as the apartment rental market tightens. Fraud around vacation home rentals will also become a more significant problem as people start vacationing again. This article discusses rental fraud and what prospective tenants can do to identify scammers and protect themselves.

What is rental fraud?

Rental fraud usually involves scammers collecting rent for properties that you don’t own or that don’t exist. Scammers typically carry out rental scams using one of her two techniques:

hijacked ads

Some scammers use real property ads but change the contact information to their own. The scam can involve hacking sites listing rental properties and changing landlord contact information. Alternatively, scammers may hack the property owner’s email.

This scam allows prospective tenants to verify that the property exists. However, scammers usually don’t have access to the property and create reasons why they can’t offer tours to prospective tenants, such as being out of the country.

More often, scammers hijack property photos and descriptions from rental ads to rental properties. Often in another city. Since the property is not in the city used by the scammers, prospective tenants will not be able to see it. However, prospective tenants should be able to spot this version of the scam by checking to see if the property exists.

Rent a property not owned by scammers

Scammers can also rent properties that they don’t own. This scam takes several forms.

In some cases, scammers may collect rent and give the tenant ownership of the home, even if they do not have the right to lease the home. One of my friend’s girlfriend fell victim to this scam and had to move out of state and put her house up for sale.

A friend of mine became suspicious when the house didn’t sell even though it had been listed at market value for months. I checked to see if I could set up the house for my family, but I noticed that someone was living in the house without permission.

A real estate salesperson rented out a property to a tenant without permission, and pocketed the rent. The property salesperson lost his license and my friend had to bear the costs of evicting unauthorized tenants.

I’m telling this story from my friend’s perspective as a homeowner, but the tenant who rented from the seller was also a victim of fraud. If I didn’t act quickly, I risked having to evict my credit record.

At least the tenant in my friend’s situation owned the house (albeit without a permit). Scammers often rent homes and collect a security deposit and at least the first month’s rent. However, scammers cannot give property ownership to tenants. Because scammers can’t access it. The tenant may not realize the scam until they try to move in, only to discover that someone else is living in the home. You may not be able to give

Identifying Rental Fraud

Prospective tenants should remember the adage, “If it looks too good, it’s real.” A feature of many scams is that they offer better deals than other options on the market.

For example, rent may be lower than landlords typically charge in the area. Alternatively, scammers may tell tenants that they can rent without going through a background or credit check. Also, landlords may not need a formal lease agreement.

Other red flags are similar to other real estate fraud red flags. For example, there may be significant grammatical or spelling errors in advertising or email communications. This can happen if the scammer is outside the U.S. Alternatively, the scammer may demand that prospective tenants pay money or sign a lease before viewing the property. . Heavy-handed sales tactics and requiring tenants to pay by wire transfer (as opposed to check or credit card) can also be indicators of fraud.

Another red flag of rental fraud is not allowing prospective tenants to see the home before signing the lease and paying the money. I’m not talking about the situation when apartments are occupied and therefore only models are displayed in the apartment complex. Rather, scammers usually have an excuse that tenants cannot see the property, such as the owner being out of the country.

How tenants can protect themselves from rental fraud

Education — knowing the red flags of fraud — is the first step tenants can take to protect themselves against fraud. However, tenants can also protect themselves by conducting due diligence before signing legal documents or making payments.

Applicants can conduct basic due diligence free of charge online by: However, it’s important to note that even failing the test means the prospective tenant needs to do more research. Renting is not necessarily a scam. There are legitimate rentals, owners and agents that may not pass some of these tests.

Check that property exists.

Zillow and similar websites contain listings for most single family homes and some multifamily homes. If there is no Zillow listing for such a home, the landlord should investigate further.

Also, in most states, property tax records are publicly available, but whether counties or states keep records varies by state. Property tax records are required for all properties in the state, but for multi-family homes, records may not be under individual unit numbers.

Property tax records often list the name of the actual owner of the property. If the would-be landlord doesn’t know the real owner’s name, it doesn’t necessarily indicate fraud, but it does suggest that future tenants should investigate further.

Google Maps often shows a street view of an address. Prospective tenants can compare their view to listings to verify that the property advertised is indeed at the specified address. In areas where Google Maps doesn’t have Street View, using Google Earth may help prospective tenants locate an address and at least confirm that there is a home at that location.

In some cases, prospective tenants discover scams by Googleing unique phrases for rental properties. Such a search may return thousands of results, but such a search may return identical listings, down to the photos, for the same rental property in different cities. Duplicate listings indicate that at least one of the listings is likely a scam.

Investigate Owners and Agents

Prospective tenants can also complete a free survey of owners and agents. The business must be registered with the state secretary of state (or in Maryland, the Assessor’s Office of Taxation). Not being registered does not necessarily mean that the business is fraudulent. There are legitimate rental properties whose owners are unsophisticated and skip this important step, but scammers rarely bother to register.

Professional rental agents often have a website or LinkedIn bio. Scammers sometimes create a website for her, but rarely create a LinkedIn bio.

Additionally, most states require professional renters not affiliated with non-lawyer owners to be licensed as real estate professionals. The state has a website where consumers can check the license.

As with all online surveys, unlicensed does not automatically mean fraud. And as my friend learned, having a license doesn’t mean the individual is immune to fraud. But if those search results don’t match and you have other red flags, it could be a scam.

Just google the company name and personal name. The rightful owner or agent may not have his website or give it bad ratings occasionally, but is it associated with many posts claiming the same company is involved in fraud? I know how.

Do not give personal information to strangers

Fraudsters can get away with asking for personal information as well, as legitimate landlords need personal information. While not a rental scam, the scammers may ask for the victim’s mother’s maiden name, credit card or other items commonly used in her website password reset questions. I have.

Be suspicious of unsolicited email or phone offers

Scammers often find victims through unsolicited spam emails. They may send out tens of thousands of emails in hopes of finding a few individuals who will respond. It is rare for legitimate renters or owners to send unsolicited offers.

Claim a written lease outlining rental terms

It’s in everyone’s interest that the lease terms are written leases, even for legal rentals. If the landlord refuses or if the lease contains many spelling errors or looks odd, the rental may be a scam.

Insist on viewing the property before renting

Tenants are required to visit the property before signing a lease or paying rent. A virtual tour is better than no tour, but you may still not see properties that you think are leased.

do not pay before signing

Reputable landlords and property managers do not require money as a fee to list properties. Nor do we require payment of a security deposit or rent before the rental agreement is signed.

Do not wire security deposits or lease payments

Tenants should not wire funds to people they have never met. Wire transfers, money orders, and ACH are equivalent to cash deliveries. Sophisticated property managers usually accept credit cards, and almost all landlords accept checks. It is different if the tenant wants to arrange automatic ACH of the rent after moving in.


Fraud listings are frequently identified when potential tenants conduct basic due diligence. However, many of the applicants do not know how to research the property, or they are desperate to find a house by cutting corners. By stepping back and taking the time to do that research, these tenants can keep themselves from falling victim to scammers.

Drawn from Elizabeth Whitman’s classical music background and passion for classical music, the series presents creative solutions to legal problems experienced by businesses and real estate investors.

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