Identifying rental scams

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Dear WAHFAQ,

I thought I did everything right. I’ve been looking for a place to live, and found this listing. I drove by the home and it actually existed and was listed for sale! But it turned out to be a scam and I lost $2100. I’m working with the bank to try and get my money back, but it doesn’t look good. How could I have known? What did I miss?

The rental property you are interested in is 1 Standard Bedroom 1 full bathroom apartment, located at (Address redacted) Seattle, WA 98116 of which the fixed monthly rental fee is $1000. It’s sleeps minimum of 1 and maximum of 4 comfortably and perfectly.

 To secure the apartment for your requested period, we requires the first month rental fee, plus $1000 security/damage fee which is refundable on your departure date and cleaning fee of $100. This will enable you reserve and secure the unit for your stipulated dates of stay in the unit.

However; The security fee is not applied toward rental fee so therefore it is fully refundable on your day of departure provided all the amenities in the unit are met in perfect shape, not stolen or broken.

Amenities/Utilities includes: WiFi internet access, High quality towels, linens and dishes, Air conditioning, Attached garage for two cars, Flat screen TV with cable and DVD player, Fully equipped kitchen with dishwasher, Microwave, Ice Maker Refrigerator and many more. Pet Allowed

Here is the rate quotation for 1 month after which you can extend your reservation

1… 1 MONTH RENTAL FEE =  $1000
2… CLEANING =  $100
3… SECURITY FEE =  $1000(Refundable)
4… TOTAL FEE =  $2,100
5… TOTAL DEPOSIT=  $2,100
6… TOTAL BALANCE = The remaining rental balance will be paid at the end of first month if you are to stay more than 1 month.

The above quotation is what required you to hold the apartment for your reservation. They are all fixed price and non refundable besides the security/damage fee ($1000).

I will like you to take your time to go through the quotation and get back to me as soon as possible so i can make a provision of the Rentals Agreement Forma and also provide you with the banking information for down payment in order to make your reservation because their are other interests in the unit as well. Thanks for your time and your interest.

I will be looking forward to read back from you soonest.

I am so sorry this happened to you!

Sadly, rental scams are really common, especially in tight housing markets like Seattle! Many times we’re so desperate to get a decent home for a good price that we throw caution to the wind in hopes of beating out the next person behind us. And, with so many foreign investors, we tend to overlook common spelling and grammar mistakes because it’s not their native language!

Treating this as a very expensive learning experience, there are a few things that stand out to me:

  1. It’s hard to overlook the spelling and grammar and the fact that he calls it an apartment, when it really is a house. While these don’t have to be deal-breakers, it should have raised your suspicions a little.
  2. Little things that seemed odd were the mention of air-conditioning, (rare in Seattle) and 2-car garage, (even more rare!) And usually if a pet is allowed there are additional pet deposits if not pet rent!
  3. I looked up the home on Zillow.com, and it was a small, really cute brick home in West Seattle. If you’re local to the market, you know there is NOTHING like that going for just $1000 a month in the area. The rent is just too low. Yes, we would love to believe that a home like that exists, but it doesn’t. That should have been enough to move on, but I totally understand the appeal.
  4. A landlord generally doesn’t ask for all rent and deposits up front before running a screening application. This can be tricky because usually that means you have to give out your SSN in order to run a background and credit check. You should research your landlord and verify that he’s the property owner, (a simple free check through the county will do, or go to http://www.searchq.com for a paid search) before giving over any money or personal information.
  5. Speaking of which, did you research him? Did you google his name, phone number, email address, ask for references or contacts? You said you went by the house and it was for sale…which isn’t completely odd because the owner may have decided to rent before selling. Although, in Seattle, that home would be sold in 24 hours, so it should raise a little red flag. Did you talk to neighbors? Did you get any 3rd party verification that this person was who they said they were?

All these little things added up would lead to the conclusion that this wasn’t a legitimate listing. As much as we want to believe there is a landlord in Seattle renting out a HOME for $1,000 month (with air conditioning and garage!) not charging pet-rent…it just doesn’t ring true.

It’s a matter of knowing the local market, and doing your research on any private landlord. Again, I’m sorry for your loss, and hope that others can learn from it!

Think about all the extra money you could make by being a mystery shopper, starting your own business, or working from home for a legitimate company. Take control of your income and check out our LEARN page for a list of classes, books, and more!

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