Thousands of renters in Las Vegas are falling prey to rental scams throughout the valley. Just this week, I experienced it personally on one of my listings. Thankfully, we caught it early.
Last week, the secure, electronic lockbox I had installed on the listing disappeared. As a result, I changed the locks and installed a new lockbox. I asked the friendly neighbors across the street to help keep an eye on the home and they agreed.
On Wednesday, I received a call stating a very large family was living in the home and that they told the neighbors they were renting it. I immediately called the cops who met me out at the property. The locks had been changed again and no one was home and so we could not get in. While there, the “tenants” (victims) showed up with two truckloads of household furnishings to move into the home. The cops informed them that they had been a victim of a scam and could not move in.
Upon questioning, the victims shared that they had found the home on the internet and given a $2,000 deposit in the form of a money order. The “landlord” (scam artist) was to pick up the $1,650 in rent on Friday. After that, he would come each month to pick up the rent in the form of a money order. The cops informed the family that what is normal is to write a check to a landlord or company and mail it off or drop if off, not have it picked up.
The family also told the cops that they had been told not to worry about the lockbox on the house and that they needed to change the locks. They were also to clear out the remaining items that were in the house (the sellers remaining possessions).
The cops told the family they should always use a real estate agent when looking for a rental home in order to protect themselves from scams. The cops stated that if they tried to call the “landlord,” they probably would not be able to reach them as many use burner phones, collect the deposit, ditch the phone and then never come to pick up the rest of the money.
So how can people protect themselves? The following tips can help:
- Always use a real estate agent or property management company when looking to rent a single family home.
- Never trust rental listings on the internet. Craigslist and others are infamous for finding scams.
- Be leery of a home with a For Sale sign or Realtor lockbox on it.
- A home that still has possessions in it is a red flag.
- Beware of anyone who asks you to pay rent in the form of a money order.
- Beware of landlords who ask you to change the locks. Normally, a landlord will want to have a copy of the house key.