“Craigslist Scams Targeting Renters Desperate for Affordable Apartments,” says the New York Daily News headline. From 2008.
Issues with listing reliability aren’t new to Craigslist or similar online services, and the on-the-move nature of service members and their families can make them easy targets. Multiple states have issued warnings over the years to alert renters to this nefarious practice, but with military moving season (and the need for short-term housing) about to pick up, it’s likely the scammers will be back with listings near major military installations.
These scams take advantage of renters who are too trusting, or too busy to do their homework. Here are five quick checks you can perform on any listing that will help root out scams before you and your money go your separate ways.
1. You sure that’s OK? Many fake ads go out of their way to cater to folks who, for whatever reason, may not qualify for legitimate rentals. If the ad says the landlord has no issue with a partial security deposit, or doesn’t perform a credit check, or doesn’t need proof of income or employment, chances are it’s not just a building owner being charitable.
2. Play web detective. Type the rental address into a web search or, if a photo is included, run it through a Google Images search. This check will take seconds and should serve two purposes: Making sure the photo isn’t being used to advertise multiple addresses (a clear sign of a scam) and making sure the entire listing isn’t cut-and-pasted from another rental or sales site.
3. Don’t go international. “If looking on Craigslist ... be wary of homeowners claiming to be out of the country,” said Cassandra Rowley, a Navy veteran and Realtor based in the Seattle area. “Especially if they ask you to send money before you see the home.”
4. Watch your messages. Email addresses can be warning signs that the ad has been put together by someone claiming to be something else. If names don’t match, or if addresses look like they’ve been selected by a random letter generator (this tip sheet has an extreme example), think twice.
5. Get personal. Most scammers are able to work their magic the best over email and phone. Suggest an in-person meeting to show the property; if you’re looking for a rental at your next duty station, you have options for finding a representative. If you can figure out a way to have an on-site presence despite being in a different time zone and a potential landlord cannot, it’s not a good sign.
Kevin Lilley is the features editor of Military Times.