Being in property management in California, we here at Southern California Real Estate Management have seen it all. At least that’s what we thought. As a result of the housing meltdown, thousands of foreclosures and people desperate to find rental homes has brought out crooks and scam artists from all over the world to prey on innocent people in their time of need.

Craigslist seems to be a popular hang out for scam artists. They may copy a legitimate ad, reposting it with their contact information and advertise a very low rent. Their email addresses are set up with an automatic response email ready with a sob story of why they can’t meet you in person, and how upstanding of a person they are. It will ask for your personal information, and will want you to wire transfer them the first month’s rent and security deposit (usually out of the country) and will promise to mail you the keys when they receive your money. Although you would think the red flags would be obvious to most, people in a desperate state of mind and who are in financially difficulty are only looking at the very low rent advertised and seem to fall for it. We have recently seen one where the scammer used the name of the occupant in the home in his ad. With people’s personal information offered on the internet for free, it’s easy for someone to enter the property address and get the name of the person living there. Which would look more legitimate if the potential renter also tried to look up any information to try to confirm it. Beware, just because someone has a phone number listed with a property address, does not mean that they own that property.

However, Craigslist disclaimers do warn that if the landlord can’t let you physically into the interior of the home to see it before you fill out an application, and they can’t meet you in person – those are red flags that you are probably not dealing with someone legitimate. No legitimate landlord should require you to fill out an application or give them money prior to you being able to see the interior of the home. Yes, they can probably provide you with photos that they have stolen from the actual ad from the real owner, but if they can’t let you into the house – they probably don’t have any keys or access and don’t want to meet you in person because of course, you would see their face or because they are international scammers.

We have also recently been notified by the Department of Real Estate of landlord imposters who break into abandoned or foreclosed homes, change the locks and put out an online ad showing the foreclosed home available for rent at a very low price. Most criminals won’t put out the money to change the locks, and especially won’t put out any money to get carpets cleaned, replaced or paint the interior. So if someone that seems strange to you lets you into a house that looks like its been vacant for a while, has weeds in the front yard, electricity turned off, dirty carpet and they seem edgy to get you in and out quickly because the neighbors might see someone in the house and call the police – do some checking. Have a realtor check with their title company to see who is on title of the property. If the name of the person doesn’t match and they don’t have picture ID, don’t give them any of your personal information or money. If it is bank owned – call the bank directly and find out who is in charge of the property, usually an asset manager, they will tell you if the bank is leasing the property. Less than 1% of banks lease out their foreclosed properties. If you find out an owner has a recent Notice of Default, and states they are doing a loan modification, that is also a red flag that they may disappear with your security deposit and you may find an eviction notice on your door from the bank shortly after you move in. Most owners will not pay for any gardening service, maintenance or repairs if they are in default or doing a loan modification since they are unsure if or when the property will go back to the bank. A tenant may find themselves with a broken air conditioner or plumbing problem with a non-responsive owner when it comes to fixing anything. Protect yourself and your security deposit, rent a home that is being managed by a professional property management company that has been in business for a long time and is managing a large number of properties.