Rental Fraud and the Internet

John Merchant, CPA, CFE

As the economic downturn forces more individuals to look for a place to rent, it is probably inevitable that unscrupulous individuals have devised ways to take advantage of the situation and use the internet to commit fraud.  The Denver Post reports specific instances where fraudsters used Craigslist.com in their schemes.  Apparently, these individuals found unoccupied homes for sale and then listed them on Craigslist as rental properties.  Unsuspecting renters paid rent and security deposits to the fraudsters only to find out later that they were illegally occupying someone else’s property.  This is just one variation of rental property fraud that has grown dramatically in recent months.  Another variation involves former homeowners renting their homes to unsuspecting tenants after they have actually lost the home to foreclosure. Another involves scammers collecting rental applications on properties they do not own simply to obtain confidential data on the applicant that can later be used for identity theft.  Renters should be careful to rent only through legitimate sources and should be cautious of any arrangement that is completed over the internet with no face-to-face meeting.

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