Here are a few tips for avoiding typical rental scams.
Rental Property "Landlord" Scam: The ad for the rental property and email reply seem honest and possible: a landlord has left town on a trip and is looking to rent their home. When the potential tenant asks to view the house, the owner says he has the keys with him in a foreign country and asks that the deposit and rent be sent to him via Western Union or wire transfer before he'll mail the keys. Don't do it.
The scammers will generally copy real ads and real photos of actual rental properties or homes in attractive neighborhoods and pretend to be local owners. They significantly lower the rental prices and post them on other websites, replacing the owner's contact information with their own. The actual homeowners are unaware their home is being used to commit fraud.
In situations where you cannot personally visit the rental property because you are not located in the city of the rental, never send money via wire transfer, cashier's check, Money Gram or Western Union. Only a credit card has fraud protection. If the landlord can not accept a credit card, you can use PayPal to make payment using your credit card. If the landlord will not accept PayPal, look elsewhere. Don't risk the chance of being taken in a scam.
Rental Property "Tenant" Scam: Tenants can also be scammers. Landlords need to be on the lookout for the following popular tenant scam. It begins by the tenant finding a rental property on popular classified ad websites. The scammer will usually contact the landlord by email. These emails usually have poor spelling and grammar and come from a free email account such as Yahoo, Hotmail or Gmail. These emails usually come from scammers claiming to be doctors or reverends.
The landlord replies with information about the property. The tenant usually says they are out of the country and would like to rent the property, sight unseen. They send a fake certified cashier's check or money order. The cashiers check or money order is for an amount much greater than the deposit and first month's rent. The scammer says they made a mistake and asks the landlord to send the overpayment back to them. It usually takes several days for a bank to recognize a cashiers check or money order as being fake.
The unsuspecting landlord thinks the money is already in their bank account so they have no problem wiring the excess money, usually $1,000 to $2,000. The scammer receives the funds and the landlord receives a call from their bank that the cashiers check or money order was fake. The scam is now complete and the landlord has just lost a large amount of money.