This contributed post is for informational purposes only. Please consult a business, financial and legal professional before making any decisions. We may earn money or products from the affiliate links in this post.
Real estate scams have been around for a long time, but scammers have hit a new low by taking advantage of people affected by COVID-19. Landlords struggle to pay mortgages and maintain properties when tenants have lost their jobs and can’t pay rent. Scammers target property owners looking to sell and prospective tenants looking to rent, often cooking up cloned or fake listings offering deep discounts. If a prospective buyer or tenant bites at a price too good to be true, the only person who wins is the scammer. If you’re a real estate investor, learn how to protect your rental property from scammers.
Double Down on Physical Security
Scammers have gone so far as to break into and change the locks of someone else’s property, presenting themselves as the owners. Check and double-check your property’s physical security, and beef up lighting and alarm systems on unoccupied units. Visit weekly, and inspect your property for signs of unauthorized entry or other suspicious activity. Don’t make it easy for a scammer to usurp your rental home.
Check Online Listings Daily
Scammers often run fake ads offering low rental prices on homes listed for sale. When duped prospective tenants contact them, they cook up sob stories to explain the too-good-to-be-true prices and make promises to mail keys in exchange for wire transfers. With in-person showings on hold due to COVID-19, technically savvy scammers can also clone or hijack virtual tours and make them look like their own. They even lure prospective tenants into buying into credit checks where the scammer earns a commission and the prospective tenant gets nothing but a bill.
Some scammers go as far as representing themselves as diplomats, missionaries, or military service members to trick prospective tenants into sending them personal information or wiring money as a pretext, diverting prospective tenants from your legitimate rental.
To catch any of this illicit activity, search your property’s address and photos online frequently, and check advertising sites such as Craigslist. Promptly report any listings you didn’t place as fake. Watermark any photos you use online to market your property. Place the watermark in the center of the photo to make it difficult for scammers to crop it out.
Use a Property Management Company
If you aren’t already employing a property management firm, now is a good time to consider it. Hiring a property management company is worth the investment to protect your property from scams. In addition to screening tenants, collecting rent, and performing maintenance, the management company can manage your property’s online presence and provide professional-looking branding that can reassure prospective renters they’re dealing with a legitimate listing, property manager, and property owner.
Hard times bring out the best in many people, but they can bring out the worst in others. Protect your rental property from scammers with common sense precautions, frequent checks, and daily online searches.