CATHERINE M. MATTHEWS (R), GRI
Broker-In Charge, Callahan Realty, Ltd.
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers
Q. I was looking at an ad on an internet website and started corresponding with the man who listed the property for rent. It was a great deal and the home was gorgeous when I drove by. They said I couldn’t look inside because the current tenants were being uncooperative but I did see a lot of pictures. I told them I wanted the house. They instructed me to mail the deposit and that as soon as it was received they would send the keys. I told them I was afraid to send money in the mail and at that point all communication ended. Since then I found out that it was a scam. The property wasn’t even for rent – it was listed for sale. How do I know that a person is a legitimate owner of a property or Realtor representing the owner?
A. The internet is a very valuable tool for tenants looking for rental properties here in Hawaii.
It seems that a great number of people check Craigslist, Zillow, Trulia, etc. regularly when searching for a rental.
The problem is that certain unscrupulous individuals have discovered that they can copy information on a property from a legitimate ad – whether for sale or for rent – and post their own ad on sites – phishing for unknowing tenants to take their bait.
The scenario is usually that the property is a great deal – priced at half of what the rental would normally go for. The individual posting the ad just waits for inquiries and provides a story about how the owner is away – maybe out of the country – but needs to get the property rented right away. They may even suggest that the person drive by the property to see if it is something that will work for them. They then direct them to send funds – security deposit or first month’s rent – and in exchange the keys to the unit will be provided via mail. One renter was even directed to just get a locksmith to change the locks so they could gain access to the property and move right in. It was quite a surprise to the real owner who returned from an extended trip to find someone living in his home without his knowledge or authorization. The best advice I can give anyone looking at internet ads is – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is! Do your homework. What are other properties in the area going for? Be sure you have an opportunity to meet with the person representing the unit and if you feel uncomfortable, do some checking. Licensed property managers should be easy to verify – if they are legitimate the company will have a website. If you are working with an individual, you can look at public tax record information to see who owns a property. If the person you are talking to has a different name, you can ask why and see if the answer seems plausible or raises red flags.
Whatever you do – don’t wire funds via Western Union, Moneygram or any other wire service in anticipation of receiving keys to a rental.
Don’t provide any financial information (bank account number, social security number, PayPal info, etc.) or submit to credit checks or background checks to anyone, unless you have verified that they are the legitimate representative of the property. If you feel that you have come across a fraudulent ad you usually report it to the website. This is a whole new cyber-world and you need to take precautions to protect yourself from unscrupulous predators. Remember the old adage – Buyer Beware!