Beware of home rental scams

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX -- If you're looking to rent a home, 3 On Your Side has a warning for you because scammers really have their bases covered. They are involved in just about every facet of life and one area where they continue to linger is in the rental market.

Nicole Hamming is a real estate agent and says while the housing market seems to be improving, it's also bringing scammers. "Internet fraud, it's pretty common, unfortunately," she said. "I can't patrol the Internet."

One Internet scam actually revolves around a home Hamming listed for sale. While she is trying to sell the house, a con man who has nothing to do with the home is trying to rent it out at the same time.

" I had this property up for sale on Zillow," Hamming said. "It's listed for $265,000, and there's a person that is marketing this property for rent for $850. It's a 2,400-suare-foot home with a pool and nice-sized yard."

Hamming said the scammer took her online listing and with a few clicks, made the house she was selling look like it was for rent in order to bait unsuspecting victims.

It's more common -- and easier -- than you might think.

"The scammer will take a listing that's been advertised or marketed on the Internet and because I can't police the internet, unfortunately, he can download or save the photos off of my listing and take that information and make his own post," Hamming explained.

When someone is interested in renting the house, they contact the scammer, who, of course, asks for rent money up front.

"His scam is pretty much that he's out of the country, he's not available to show the property, to send him money, wire him money," Hamming said.

She said she learned her listing had been hijacked when interested renters actually drove by the house to check it out and saw her real estate sign in the yard.

“Several people drove by the property, which is how they got my information, called me on it to get more information and wanted to see the property and, unfortunately, it's not for rent," she said. "It's under contract for sale.”

Consumers who communicate with the scammer usually wind up wiring money, thinking they're getting a great deal on a rental, only to find out later the house was never for rent and their money is gone.

"They need to research it, they need to figure out who is this person I'm talking to and is he legitimate or she legitimate," Hamming said.

If you are in the rental market, always be cautious and never wire money if you're asked to do so.