Is it safe to use Craigslist to find a rental?
Earlier this week, I posted an article detailing 12 ways you can spot a rental scam. That got me to thinking about Craigslist and wondering how safe it is. I'm a fan of Craigslist but that's probably because I've never been burnt using it. Others aren't so lucky. Let's think about the question, "is it safe to use Craigslist to find a rental?"
Let me begin by telling you that there are honest people out there that advertise on Craigslist because it's a form of free advertising. I always post our Leesburg rental properties on Craigslist and other free places, including Facebook marketplace and in relevant Facebook groups. Don't assume that everyone on Craigslist is evil; just be careful!
I did a Google search to see the percentage of rental scams on Craigslist. The first post that appeared was from a company called The Mortgage Reports, a business that publishes real estate and financing news. They said that in a recent survey, it is estimated that 25% of Craigslist rental listings are actually frauds. That's a scary thought! They did say that when Craigslist becomes aware of a fraudulent posting, they remove them. Even still, they may appear for a period of time until they become noticed and/or reported.
The Mortgage Reports article detailed three common scams that seem common on Craigslist. The first, called a cloned listing is where a person copies a valid rental listing, posts it at a really good price, and hopes you respond to them. They use a few of the tactics I discussed in 12 ways you can spot a rental scam: they avoid human contact, the price is usually too good to be true, and they'll typically ask you to just view the property from the outside because they claim to be out of the area. They'll then try separating you from your money without ever stepping foot into the place and will request you wire them money for the initial rent payment and security deposit. They mention additional red flags being vague details or incorrect facts being stated about the area, and photos with MLS watermarks. So far so good - all of these facts were covered in my article about rental scams.
Next they discuss the illegal sublet - I included an example of this in my sixth bullet called Cash is King. In this case, the person can get in and show you the property, possibly because they already rent the unit or have broken into it. They'll have you sign a completely bogus lease document, will collect your money (preferably in cash because it's not traceable), and then they'll disappear. You'll think your all set until moving day when you find out the place isn't yours after all. They mention red flags as being signs of a break-in, hearing they want cash or money to be wired, no checks necessary (background, income), or they'll ask for too much personal information (setting you up to steal your identity in addition to stealing your money).
Another scam they mention that I wasn't aware of was that some on Craigslist attempt to sell you access to a database that lists homes for rent or foreclosures that you can purchase cheaply. Once you pay for the list and subscribe, you find yourself unable to stop the service and they keep charging it to you monthly for it.
What else could indicate a scam? Think about these:
No address is provided or the address that's listed doesn't exist
When searching around, you see places showing the same pictures in different towns or cities
No pictures are included - just a description
You have to pay them before you can see the inside of the place
They want your social security number to run your credit before you can see the place
The only way to communicate with them is electronically via email or text, not by phone or in person
The contact you receive appears like a form letter and isn't personalized to you, the person that contacted them
The email may contain information that is auto-filled-in from a database - the scammer may just have a template letter they use and then the database fills in the details, possibly showing key information in boldface or in parentheses
There's a sob story told to you about why they need to rent the place right away
They say they already have a person interested but if you fill out the application quickly and send them the necessary money, they'll make sure you get it (pressure tactics)
The security deposit is much larger than what is customary in the area - you can see State-by-State Security Deposit Limits. Some states like Florida don't have limits. Others limit security deposits to one or two month's rent maximum.
Craigslist provides a list of tips for avoiding scams. It's fine to consider using Craigslist for finding a rental, but be extra careful when you do. Read over their list, the list above, and those things I've covered in 12 ways you can spot a rental scam. Protect yourself from becoming somebody's next victim!