The National Association of Residential Propety Manager Governmental Affairs Committee wants to warn you about an internet rental scam that has been making its way around the country. Scammers are copying information, photos and text, from legitimate online rental ads and then posting that information on Craig’s List. It is listed with a significantly reduced rent and the property manager’s contact information has been replaced by the scammer’s. In some ads the text is full of misspelled words and bad grammar but not always. This is because many of the scammers are operating outside the country, typically Nigeria, but many cases have also involved local scammers who are able to meet potential tenants in person. With international scams, the potential tenants are usually required to send the deposit and first month’s rent through Western Union and are promised that the keys will then be over-nighted to them. Local scammers are often able to copy a key or simply break into a vacant property and replace the door lock with their own so they can actually provide the new tenant with a legitimate key. In one situation an unsuspecting tenant was actually able to completely move into an apartment without the knowledge of the legitimate property manager. The property manager was only alerted to the problem when the tenant called the office to request that the “For Rent” sign be removed from their front yard.

These scammers are often very sophisticated and can play the part of a legitimate property manager well enough to fool potential renters. Make sure you are checking your vacant properties and Craig’s List on a regular basis. If you find an unauthorized ad flag it so that others will know that it may be fraudulent and contact Craig’s List to request that they remove it from their website. Some property managers have even posted an additional listing with the same name but included, “THIS IS A SCAM” or similar language at the end of the post to help warn people. This way it will come up in the listing right after the fraudulent post and give the property manager an opportunity to provide the correct information.

The FBI has received countless complaints about this and other rental scams but they explained that this type of crime is low on their list of investigative priorities. If one of your properties gets caught in this scam, we recommend you visit www.IC3.gov and report the crime. The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). IC3's mission is to serve as a vehicle to receive, develop, and refer criminal complaints regarding the rapidly expanding arena of cyber crime. If you encounter a potential tenant who has been scammed and made the mistake of providing sensitive personal information such as their social security number, it is highly recommended that they go ahead and put a freeze on their credit.