The military has given you orders to relocate to a new duty station. Your first family mission? Find a new home.
The enemy? Online scammers.
The first place that most of us look for a new home is on the Internet. Unfortunately, that’s where scammers lurk.
One of the latest schemes circling the market involves scammers taking a legitimate home advertised on the internet, and posting a completely new ad on another site with the same description, information and photos. Let’s say that you’re interested in a home and everything online looks like it is legit. You may have even had good communication with the contact. But now it’s time to fill out a rental application. Here’s where things can get sketchy.
If you turn over your application to the wrong hands, you’ve just provided the con-artist with all the personal information they need to financially cripple you with unauthorized loans, credit cards, and more. If you go the next step and send in a deposit, you could potentially be out thousands of dollars.
Handing over so much personal data and money can make for a pretty scary situation. Thankfully, you can make sure you don’t fall prey to online rental scams by following these steps.
Just say “no” to these situations:
- They are not requiring you to submit paperwork and are willing to rent the home from you almost immediately
- They are requesting money via wire transfer, money order, Western Union, or want you to mail cash
- They are asking you to send money to a bank located in a different city or state, other than where the property is located
- You’ve been told that you’ll get the key after they receive your money
- The home ad has poor grammar or misspelled words
- The price seems too good to be true
- You can’t get anyone to show you the house because the contact is on vacation, moved away from the area, sick, etc.
- Religion is mentioned as a reason that they’ve selected you to rent the home
Verify private homeowners
- Ask for a session with the seller via Skype or Google Hangout to see the house in real time; watch out for excuses, this may indicate a scam
- Do an internet search on the county where the property is located and verify who owns the property through the ‘property records office’
- If your contact indicates they’re on active duty, ask for an email from their official .mil email address
Verify leasing agents
- If the property is listed with an agent, there should be an MLS number. Contact another agent and ask them to verify the information including price, sale, rent, etc. Also have the individual verify the agent listed on the MLS listing.
- If the property is listed with a property management company, look up their company online and verify its address and telephone number, or its regional chapter
- If state laws require property management companies or individuals to be licensed, you can verify their licenses online with the State Department of Real Estate
- If you’re meeting with the contact, ask to meet at their office
- If you have a friend in the area you’re relocating to, see if they can meet the agent or go on a walk-through on your behalf
Be smart and do your homework
- Search the address of the listing and see if any other listings appear; look out for discrepancies in pricing or sale/rental status
- Search for the County Property Records office. You want to verify if the home is in the foreclosure process, although it may take up to 90 days to get the information released to the public.
- Ask questions. What happens if there are repairs? What are the companies utilized for repairs? How often are the locks changed? How and where is rent paid?
- Use a credit card or check to help create a paper trail to protect you
- Don’t send money until you’ve verified information on the home and filled out an application
Keep a sharp eye for these red flags and do your due diligence on your future home; you could end up saving yourself thousands of dollars in the process. And finally, connect to private Facebook groups if you don’t know anyone in the area and ask for recommended areas to live or avoid. Good luck with your home search!
This article was originally published at Military1.com