In the rush to get settled during PCS, military service members and their families often begin their home searching online before their move. While this can save time and money, it also leaves service members vulnerable to real estate scams. AHRN.com wants to help you avoid potential scams during your local move or PCS.
As a service member or spouse, going with the flow of multiple PCSs throughout a career is not always stressful — it can often be exciting! Looking forward to the adventure of a new community, a new job and especially a new home can be major career highlights.
Many service members and families who are planning a move find themselves looking for the next place they’ll live before they arrive at their new duty station. Although this can be an enjoyable process, it can also be challenging, especially if seeking a rental in a “hot” market where properties come and go hours after they’re posted.
Situations such as these are prime candidates for rental scams, and even the most careful, experienced PCSers from the military community occasionally find themselves victim of these confusing, deplorable real estate crimes.
In the worst scenarios, families wind up thousands of dollars in the hole, standing at the door of their still-occupied “new home” with fabricated keys, staring at confused, legitimate occupants who had no idea their property was roped into a scam.
Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself from falling into a rental scam. Knowing the warning signs and being prepared can help you be sure your money, time and energy isn’t wasted on a dead-end property “listing.”
What is a rental scam?
Rental scams can be set up a number of different ways. Criminals steal ads, create “listings” and attempt to get money upfront before disappearing without a trace.
Hijacked ads can take on a number of forms, but they’re one of the more common types of rental scams. Thieves find a real listing in an area, change key parts of the information, and then repost it on other rental networks. For example, the scammer may steal the pictures of a property and then change the contact name and email, street address and more to avoid being noticed while their scam runs its course. They may hijack and repost the ad in another state or neighborhood, leading their victims to a property that isn’t even there.
Phantom rentals, the nasty cousin of hijacked ads, are generally comprised of completely fabricated listings. These listings may include elements of actual properties, and often include promises of a great deal, highly-desired neighborhood or low rent.
Being smart about searching for a rental can save you time, money and a great deal of heartache. Here are our best tips for protecting yourself, your money and your family:
- Search on legitimate housing sites like AHRN.com. Scams are practically unheard of here, as it’s an unfavorable environment for thieves.
- If you find the same ad listed with different contact information, dig deeper into the situation and let local authorities know.
- Often scammers will offer a telephone number without a functioning voicemail setup, causing the potential renter to contact them via email. Scammers’ emails are typically poorly written and may indicate the “owner” is on a humanitarian mission in another country.
- If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Listen to your instincts. They are almost always right!
- Emails typically ask for a deposit to be wired in exchange for a key to the house.
- Don’t wire money. One of the most common tactics of a rental scammer is asking for security deposits, first month’s rent or other fees via wire. Funds sent via wire, unlike sending a check, cannot be recovered.
- Even if it means possibly missing out on a great property, being careful is worth it. If you absolutely cannot see the property and walk through for yourself before committing financially, try to arrange for a local pair of eyes (a realtor, friend) to scope out the situation before you send a check. Take personal precaution when meeting with a landlord and try to always take someone with you.
- If the contact information is from out of the country, be vigilant. Never send money overseas and insist on paying through reputable, recoverable sources. If the contact on the listing won’t comply, move along.
- Hire a Scout! Scout is a fast growing, verified network of military spouses. As members of the military, one problem persists when moving: distance. We move great distances, we manage property at great distances. Close the distance and have peace of mind, hire a Military Spouse Scout to tour the property(ies), meet landlord(s) locally and provide you with a report!
- Add Protection by Using an Escrow Service. 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. It’s smart, simple and safe – the new way to rent.