Watch Out for Rental Rip-Offs

Home renters beware: Crooks are charging rent for property they don’t own.

Freddie Mac warned earlier this week that criminals are pretending to own (and rent out) homes which are for sale by mortgage companies.

They watch foreclosure listings and when a property pops up, they start advertising it for rent on sites like Craigslist before the home sells. They ask renters for their personal info (for a “credit check,” of course) and two months’ rent, and might even provide a working key if they managed to change the locks.

Everything checks out. You quickly move in and get settled. Then the sheriff shows up at your door to reclaim the property. And the fraudster’s long gone, and may have used your info to steal your identity and open credit in your name.

Freddie Mac’s trying to identify and stop these ads as they pop up. Here’s what you can do to avoid rip-offs…

  • Check whether the property is for sale. Google the address to see if the property is listed or drive by to check for “for sale” signs in the yard. (Check to find out if Freddie Mac owns the property. If they do, report the rental ad by calling 1-800-4FRAUD-8.)
  • If there is a “for sale” sign or online sale listing, call the listing agent immediately to confirm the status of the house. (Be suspicious if you’re told by the advertiser not to call the listing agent.)
  • Verify who owns the house by checking the county property records, which are usually available online.
  • Never send personal credit information over the Internet until you have independently confirmed all of the facts about the rental property being advertised.

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