Renters Beware – The Craigslist Search

Washington DC CraigslistSo, it’s time to find a new rental, or you are moving to a new area and want to rent first, or maybe you have been caught up in this mess of a housing market and had to do a short sale, or were foreclosed on. In any event you are in the market for a rental, and of course you head to Craigslist (or at least  you should). After weeks of browsing you come across an amazing deal! “$1250 for a 2 bedroom in Georgtown! And look at the pictures! This place is great, lets try to get a showing.” So, you email the listing contact.

The reply begins a little something like this: “Thank you for your interest in this property. Unfortunately I have had to relocate to London on short notice and cannot show you the property. However, if you send a deposit to ‘company – x’ they will send you the keys by US Mail so that you can see it. Don’t worry, I trust you to return the keys if you are not interested, and your deposit will be returned to you….”

You should know, if you don’t already that Craigslist is one of the best if not THE best source of rental listings. This is still a surprise to many folks who have not rented in a while, or have been in the same rental for quite some time. So why Craigslist? It is so ubiquitous that it is perhaps the only place you can go to find just about every rental on the market in a given area. Northern Virginia and DC rentals are no exception. But it’s ubiquity does come with some risks that you need to be on the look out for.

If you have found a rental property on Craigslist in the last few years you have likely experienced something similar to the example above. You come across that to good to be true listing, that looks so great. Great location, great price, they even have photos of the property, etc. Surely a scam wouldn’t be able to do that, right? You reply and find out it is indeed a scam.

The 3 Scam Types to Watch Out For:

1: The out of the country scam:

This is the scam mentioned above. The front end signature of this this scam is almost always a price that is to good to be true (common thread) you will see. The post will typically have some basic details, some photos, and an anonymous email contact. If you do end up contacting the lister, you will get some form of a reply stating that they had to head overseas on short notice, but you can arrange a deposit to a 3rd party vendor and receive the keys in the mail in a few days.

2: The information scam:

Hopefully by now we can all see this one quickly. Same signature as the first, and the last, price is to good to be true. You respond, and receive a request for detailed information to run credit scores. You should never supply any information of the sort until you have set foot in the property, and have an agent representing you or have met the landlord or property manager personally.

3: The service scam:

In my experience this is the most rare, but like the others it starts with a great price. You respond and a listing contact reply’s with some sort of “I’m busy so I need you to go get your credit score for me and let me know what it is before I make time to show the property.” They will include a link to a credit report service. If you run the reports you are probably auto enrolled in a fee based credit watch “service”. This is a gray area scam as there is actually some sort of substance here, but good luck getting them to discontinue the automatic monthly billing. These posts are plants simply to get folks over to the site and enrolled. Sometimes you will even get an email weeks later with an apology for not being in touch, but that the property did rent. Not likely.

Wrap up:

These posts come from two sources, bits and pieces of old listings, and modifications of existing listings. One I saw recently in McLean was a single family home on Craigslist for $1,850. I checked the MLS, and sure enough there was a rental listing for the same property, but for (I believe) $3,600, or at least in that ballpark. So, a sign in the yard doesn’t mean the listing you found is legitimate. Do use Craigslist to look, but never give out information without having actually set foot in the property.

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