Avoiding rental scams
HOW TO AVOID RENTAL SCAMS
Scams are on the rise and scammers see Davis as an easy target because of high demand for housing and low vacancy. There are some sophisticated scammers who are replicating rental ads from Craigslist and other on-line rental sites. They contact landlords phishing for information and pictures of the property. See example of a phishing attempt to get information to be used for a false listing to right ———>
On the Facebook group University of California, Davis (UCD) Housing, Sublets & Roommates, I frequently see responses from a Rental Service. One guy has his profile picture as Pirates of the Caribbean Captain Jack Sparrow’s picture and another is using past governor Jerry Brown as his name. Anyone can claim to be working for Facebook or as a graphic designer. These sights don’t have anything to do with anyone in Davis, so the likelihood of a scam is increased. They state that “hope you get better feedback within your budget”, but as the saying goes “if it is too good to be true, it probably is”. Please don’t become a victim and fork over thousands of dollars sight unseen by you or someone you trust.
It is a daunting task for many students, parents, and scholars who are sitting in their homes in far away places such as Madison Wisconsin or Denmark, searching the internet for a place to live. Some scholars will be arriving at some other time besides September 1st, and discover there is not a lot to chose from. It is a huge leap of faith to begin negotiating with someone unseen and not knowing if the deal is legit.
Perhaps it begins with a simple email to JoeSmith@gmail.com, and the inquiry made. You introduced yourself and described what you need, and a short while later comes the response! “Yes, the place is available. Send money via Western Union”. Hmmm - you have weird vibes and begin to think of the missing elements:
1) No invitation to see the property or arrange a Skype interview
2) No real identifying information who the landlord is
3) No local contact information
4) Sending money to an unverifiable source
5) Dates of lease were not mentioned
6) No real conversation about who the landlord is and where they work.
Am I really at risk for becoming a victim to rental scam?
The problem has become so prevalent that the Davis Vanguard wrote “District Attorney’s Office Warns of Rental Scam” dated July 11, 2018 and describes how scammers use Facebook profiles to lure people into their traps.
There are some resources designed to help tenants such as the City of Davis Tenant Resources which requires all landlords to register their properties, and have a local contact if they live more than 50 miles away. When presented with a lease, there should also be copy of a form called Renters’ Rights and Responsibilities, with the landlord's or agent’s local contact information.
Request this from your landlord before signing a lease.
HOW CAN A LANDLORD’S IDENTITY BE VALIDATED?
Some helpful hints in validating a landlord’s identity could include:
Validate that e-mail address is affiliated with UC Davis or local business such as XXX@ucdavis.edu, XXX@golyon.com. This information should come up in entity’s staff directory. Gmail and Yahoo e-mail accounts are really easy to set up and is commonly used by scammers. They also like to use common names like Will Smith
Check Facebook to see if the landlord’s name comes up and is the profile well established with friends in the local area.
Have a local contact schedule an appointment to meet with the landlord or agent to see the property. This could be a professor, Department Chair, future colleague, or boss.
If there is no local contact, schedule a video chat on Skype or Messenger and request a virtual tour of the property.