A lot of my friends comb through craigslist for apartments that do not have realtor fees. I completely understand as I used it as my primary search engine a few years ago as well. The problem with craigslist is that there are few checks and balances which therefore leads to rental scams posted. A new report from New York University explores just how common these scams are. Spoiler alert: they are everywhere.
How the Scam Works:
You are looking for a new place to live on the very popular Craigslist apartment listings. You know that scams are common on the site, but just how prevalent are they? Very! Craigslist fails to identify more than half of rental scam listings, and suspicious posts linger for as long as 20 hours before being taken down.
Researchers reviewed more than 2 million for-rent posts and found 29,000 fake listings in 20 major cities. Yes, Boston was on the list for researchers and I have discovered a few myself within 10minutes on the site. Of those, there were three key types of scams. In the first, a fake post instructs a would-be tenant to purchase a credit report. The scammer gets a commission from the credit reporting site, even though there is no property for rent.
In another scheme, con artists duplicate rental listings from other sites and post on Craigslist at a lower price. Prospective renters pay a deposit via wire transfer. Another pervasive scam is “realtor service” companies. Targets are asked to pay fees to access listings of pre-foreclosure rentals or rent-to-own properties. In the majority of cases, the companies leading the scams have no connection to the properties listed. Realtors do not ask for fees up front nor should you pay, especially when the information is public knowledge. There is NO SECRET PRE-FORECLOSURE LIST… ITS PUBLIC INFORMATION! You find them in your newspaper, local search engines, Zillow, RealtyTrac, your city’s public records database. If someone is asking for money before they prove themselves… RUN!
How to Spot a Rental Scam:
Don’t wire money or use a prepaid debit card: You should never pay a security deposit or first month’s rent by prepaid debit card or wire transfer. These payments are the same as sending cash – once you send it, you have no way to get it back. Real Estate professionals ask for checks which are held in escrow and you receive a deposit receipt. Realtors are held to a code of Ethics and you know who they are, you can track them, report them, not so with online tricksters.
Watch out for deals that sound too good: Scammers lure in targets by promising low rents, great amenities and other perks. If the price seems much better than offered elsewhere, it may be a scam. Many people search for rent-to-own opportunities… while these do exist, they are usually MORE EXPENSIVE than market rent and not thousands cheaper. You will never find a 3 bedroom for rent at $900 in Boston. We all know that is unrealistic..why would you fall for that scam on craigslist? Even if it was rent-to-own…where is their profit? Think like a business and you won’t get got!
See the property in person: Don’t send money to someone you’ve never met for an apartment you haven’t seen. If you can’t visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust to go and confirm that it is what was advertised. Call their bluff… You will show up with check in hand if you like the property…scammers generally never have access to the property so they will find an excuse as to why they can’t get you in on a specific date or ever.
Search for the same ad in other cities: Search for the listing online. If you find the same ad listed in other cities, that’s a huge red flag.
The moral of the story is…. feel free to use craigslist for finding apartments and homes but understand there are ALOT of scammers out there. Do your due diligence (research) before handing over your hard earned cash. Sometimes paying a realtor fee is worth it not to have the stress or risk losing your money. For assistance in finding an apartment in the greater boston area…be sure to connect with one of our agents