Don’t get burned by a rental scam–if you have to wire money to get the keys, walk away!

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(NOT)

A co-worker was looking for a rental house in the Austin area this weekend, when he spotted a heck of a deal in online classified ad: a three-bedroom home being rented for only $850 a month. Well below the going rate.

He sent them an email and as expected, it turned out to be a classic rental scam: “owner” is out of the country and will need you to send money so they can ship the keys to you–feel free to look at the outside of the house and please ignore the “for sale” sign in the yard. I’ve written about this type of scam in the past.

My co-worker called the real estate broker and sure enough, the house is for sale and is not available for rent.

In this case, the scam artist claims to be in Malaysia. The scam is often referred to as the “Nigerian Rental Scam,” but the scammer might anywhere in the world.

Below is an excerpt of the email my co-worker received from the scammer (Big chunks of it can be found in scam reports on the Internet with a quick web search. The parts I bolded are a dead giveaway):

Thanks for your Response. l owned the house and I received your email correctly. I wanted to tell you a little about us as well, so that you can get a feel for who we are. I thought it might give you another look into my character and the type of person I am, which I know is very important to you. I have been married for 15years with 3 children. my family and I We are very passionate about God’s work. Along with working in the church.I have given myself to be obedient to God. few months back I plan to sell the house due to our transfer relocating to Malaysia on a missionary work but my Family Advise me not to sell our house anymore.Now I change my decision to rent the house immediately. My family and I are seeking for a good tenant who would take care of our house in our absence,I do be believe you can take care of my House.the Utilities are included in the rent. I was dealing with the realtor in getting a tenant, but the realtor want me to rent the house very expensive due to their contract fee. I was renting at higher price and that takes time to get someone who will rent at that price.I Terminated the contract working with the realtor. Now I reduced the price of the rent to a flexible price. I won’t sell my house anymore since I will be in Malaysia for 3 years. I am looking for 1 to 3 years lease if possible, we can renew the lease. short lease is acceptable as well. I would like you to treat the house as if you owned it.you can drive by the house today and get back to me after that—-Ignore the realtor sign post in front of the house when you go by. I am no longer dealing with them. the realtor would remove the sign post next week.the keys and documents are with us here in Malaysia. So I will need to ship them to you before you can occupy the house.I’m not around to book an appointment for viewing the inside. But you can drive by the house anytime to take a look at the area and surrounding, You can also peek through the windows if you don’t mind. I’ll forward you the questionnaire form shortly as soon as you receive this email. I would feel at ease renting this home at flexible price rather dealing with the realtor and renting so expensive. I have an impressive dedication in helping others. Thank you for taking the time to read my quick story of who I am. Again thank you for your time and God bless!

let me know if you are still interested so that I can forward you the Rental Questionnaire to fill out.

BBB advises renters of the following red flags to look out for:

  • The deal sounds too good to be true. Scammers often list a rental for a low price to lure in victims. Find out how comparable listings are priced, and if the rental comes in suspiciously low, walk away.
  • The landlord is located elsewhere and prefers to communicate via e-mail. Scammers might say they have just been relocated out of the country for a job or missionary work – don’t believe it.
  • The landlord requires a substantial deposit. Don’t pay any money before inspecting the home, inside and out.
  • The landlord asks the renter to wire money. Money sent via wire transfer service is very difficult to retrieve and once the scammers have picked it up, there is little recourse. Your money is gone forever.
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