Frequent relocation is one of the realities of military life. For service members, finding housing from afar can make moving to a new duty station even harder.
While some families choose to live in base housing, others prefer the freedom to use their basic housing allowance (BAH) to find a home off-post. When you change stations, it’s important to watch out for people who may be looking to prey on unsuspecting service members who are trying to relocate quickly.
While it’s not always possible to view potential rentals in person, here are ways to avoid becoming a victim of a scam.
1. Don’t get duped by an online scam.
People can do almost everything online these days, from grocery shopping to finding a place to live. Unfortunately, that’s given rise to an increasing number of online rental scams. Common scams include landlords or property managers who are out of the country but will let you live in their house at a great rate if you wire money. They claim they will send you keys once your payment has arrived. Never send money without viewing an apartment or meeting a landlord, property manager or home owner in person and signing a legitimate lease.
2. Beware of phantom or partially fabricated rentals.
Some of the properties advertised on legitimate sites like Trulia or Zillow may be falsified. A phantom rental occurs when a property is entirely made up — as in there is nothing about the house that is real. On the other hand, there may be some rentals that are partially real and partially fake. With those, it may be a conglomeration of several attractive property pieces shown all together to make it appear better than it is. Many will have stock-looking photos. Real landlords usually don’t post glossy professional photos to online rental sites. Although, it is possible that professional photos will be hosted on an apartment complex’s website. Use the Google image search function to verify that photos are legitimate.
3. Be careful when using sites like Craigslist for housing.
Private listings sometimes work out well, but there are many deceptive ads out there. The search parameters on the site can be misleading. For example, you may be looking for a two-bedroom apartment for $900, but the site doesn’t weed out options for renting one bedroom in a two bedroom apartment for that same price. Additionally, there tend to be advertisements on Craigslist and similar sites that may be looking to scam service members. Never send money in advance of seeing a place and signing a legally sound lease.
4. Verify, verify, verify before you rent, lease or buy.
One challenge, especially if you PCS across country or to and from international locations, may be actually seeing a place before you buy or rent it. However, there are ways to make sure a place isn’t too good to be true. Search on legitimate housing sites like AHRN.com. Scams are practically unheard of here, as it’s an unfavorable environment for thieves. If possible, find a scout who can scope out the property on your behalf. Your sponsor at your gaining unit might be able to help.
5. Use an escrow service when signing a lease.
There are third-party services that will hold your money until a rental begins — use them! If a landlord demands payment up front and refuses to wait until you move in, that may be a red flag. While you are protected by your lease, you don’t necessarily want to be short on cash if a deal turns out to be a scam and you have to wait to get refunded the money. An escrow service can ensure that doesn’t happen. DepositGuard.com and Escrow.com have created easy, secure services to collect and hold payments until the rental begins so that all parties have peace of mind and are protected from fraud.
Listen to your instincts. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
What advice do you have to keep from getting scammed?