BEWARE: RENTAL SCAMS! Here’s How you can Stay Safe.
The state of Florida has seen historic growth over the past two years which has resulted in a very competitive housing market both for purchasers and renters. Unfortunately for those looking to rent, there has also been a surge in rental scams across the state. Many consumers scrambling to find a home have found themselves working with a cybercriminal trying to steal thousands from them.
We want every consumer to remain alert and safe during their home search. Below we will highlight the things you should look out for to prevent becoming a victim of these scams.
Where to Shop for Homes? Facebook? Zillow? Other Places?
We know how easy it is to hop over to Facebook marketplace, while you’re surfing social media, but Facebook marketplace is one of the most likely places criminals will post fake rental listings. One of the other more common places you will see fake listings is on Zillow. While both places can still be a great source for finding new listings, we encourage you to be extra cautious when dealing with properties on these sites. It is best to double check the property for rent with sites like apartments.com, Zumper, or even a local real estate brokers website.
Price of the home – Too good to be True?
The most common trend we see among fake listings is that they are incredibly underpriced for the area. The reason why they do this is to create high demand for the property. The high demand results in numerous consumers submitting applications with a fee, or even paying a security deposit for the property. If it is too good to be true, then it probably is.
Owner & Property Verification – Do they even own it?
Every listing must be listed by the owner or a representative of the owner. It is important to verify if the rental is being published by a licensed company or the actual owner of the property. Make sure to double check the profile of a person who published the property on Facebook marketplace. Does it look like the Facebook profile is brand new or fake? This may be a red flag! Once you identify the person who listed the property be sure to check public records to see if that is the correct owner. You can do this by going to the “Property Appraiser Website” for the county the property is located in. Search for the address of that property on the county website and verify who the owner is. If the property is being listed by a company, be sure to look up that company and verify that they are real.
Check with a Licensed Realtor
It is becoming more and more commonplace for rental properties to hit the market without the use of a Realtor, therefore; it is less common for Realtors to work with rental properties in general. However, a licensed Realtor does have access to the MLS, and they can quickly verify the property owner and whether that property is available for rent or not. Finally, because of their local market expertise they would be able to quickly identify an average market rate for the area and know if the deal you’re being offered is “too good to be true.”
Be Careful Sending Money
As we mentioned previously, the scammers are just trying to collect application fees and security deposits. Do not feel rushed into filling out an application. Schedule an in person or virtual tour or complete all the steps listed above first. Once you verify that the property is not a fake listing and you verify the party you’re dealing with, then you can submit your application and eventually the security deposit.
Please remember – security deposits are required to be held in a Florida state bank account and not to be commingled. Sending someone funds via Venmo, Zelle, or other third-party services may be a red flag.
Check out these similar and additional resources used to supplement our post:
Gabrielle Calise | Tampa Bay Times | Online Rental Scams are Everywhere, Tampa Bay. Here’s how to fact-check listings.
Marlei Martinez | WESH 2 | Housing Experts Warn of Uptick in Fake Rental, Sale Listings in Central Florida