While Craigslist and other online venues can be a valuable asset for locating tenants, it’s helpful to proceed with caution. Remember, not all online property management scams are directed at potential tenants. Property management companies can also find themselves the target of scammers in a variety of ways. If you typically post detailed rental information on Craigslist in a search for tenants, or even have a website that provides property information and photos, be aware that your property management company can quickly become a scamming victim.
In one of the latest ploys, scammers will co-opt photos and other information from legitimate rental websites, lower the monthly rent, add a contact phone number and email, and collect multiple security deposits along the way. Others scammers will offer a quick deposit to hold a property, “accidentally” overpaying and requesting a refund. This is a classic scam, and many have been taken in by the quality of the counterfeit money orders and cashier’s check they’ve received.
So how do you prevent this from happening to you and your property management company?
- Educate yourself about the current scams that are happening in your area and be on the lookout for anything suspicious. This is particularly true for those managing single family homes; the most frequent target for scammers.
- Be cautious about how much information you make available about current homes for rent. Posting photos is a great marketing tool, but too much information, such as a complete street addresses and detailed photos can make the property a prime target for scammers who run a listing of their own and collect multiple security deposits from unwitting applicants all day.
- Be wary of email interaction. While email is a great tool for initial contact, you can never be entirely sure where the email is originating from. If someone is interested in viewing a home, collect additional information and make an appointment to show the property.
- Have the applicant come to your office before showing a home, where you can collect additional data. If possible, arrange to have a partner along. While this may not eliminate all potentially violent encounters, most criminals are loath to deal with multiple agents, and will simply move on to an easier target.
- Wait until a security deposit clears before issuing keys.
By exposing scammers, you’ll help to make popular rental sites (like Craigslist) a legitimate source for property managers and applicants alike.