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.
Good article on how to protect yourself from scams that are property related.
Property Saviour says
Great article and very informative. Even applies to your audience in UK!
Flo Fierce says
Creative blog post , I was fascinated by the analysis – Does someone know where my business would be able to get access to a sample a form form to type on ?
Flo check out ezlandlordforms.com/ahrn
Michelle Redmond England says
We actually had someone post our home for rent online when we were in the middle of a move. We had hired a well known property manager, and the pictures used on their site were the ones used by the criminal. This criminal listed our house with the online rental sites and told people he was out of the country. He listed it very low rent and said he just wanted a good family in his home. what a joke. Of course I was home doing a final clean in our empty home when one of the prospective renters showed up and wanted to check out the house. Seeing me there cleaning, he thought I was hired help and he might get a chance to check out the house. He had an email saying that he could drive by, but couldn't go in the house, because (the owner was in London). If he liked what he saw, the prospective renter could send a money order and the "fake owner" would send the key. Amazingly, he was using our names on the listing as well, so if anyone checked it would look legit. Thankfully I was home. At first the perspecitve renter didn't believe me when I told them I was the owner, later he was glad he didn't send any money. We filed with the FBI. They said they would check into it, But they said our best bet were to contact each of the online sites we found and let them know the posting was a scam. What a pain in the butt that was. I responded to the fake adds myself and told the crook we were onto the scam. Nowadays I check our rentals pretty often just to be sure no one is pulling this scam again. Good luck and be careful.
Michelle – It’s so scary how frequently things like your story happen! I’m so glad you were able to catch it at the beginning!
Ronald K. Roy says
I really like your post! It is quite informative and helpful to others. This is a great article that helps how one can protect himself from online scams!
You may need to prepare yourself to do a bit of discerning. We have so many legitimate opportunities right now but there are also a ton of scams out there.
If this is a corporation, you also have to require the necessary proofs for verification. Make sure to check the track record of the company and be sure to learn more about the people behind the company. It is always best to do your research intensively before simply relying on unfounded recommendations.
People may have good intentions and they start inviting people to join a venture. They may be your friends or your family. But they can be blind with the whole picture and they might start leading you, who is another blind about this whole situation.
Ronald K. Roy