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Florida Rental Scams

By Tiffany Raiford

Renting a home in Florida is something millions do each year. Whether you are a snowbird looking for a warm place to live during the winter or a family looking to rent a home while you save money to buy, you should know that Florida is a lovely location for all. Before you make any deposits or sign any rental contracts, however, educate yourself on common rental scams. It could save you thousands of dollars.

Faux Home Owners

One of the biggest rental scams in Florida (and throughout the country) right now is the online deposit scam. Criminals from overseas are taking photos of homes from real estate websites and pretending to be the owner of that home when listing the photos on non-MLS sites such as craigslist, often at too-good-to-be-true prices. Renters see the property, inquire about renting it, and receive a crude "rental application" (often typed up within the body of the email, as opposed to being attached as a separate document), and eventually send a deposit to the faux-owner without realizing they've been scammed. Typically, the scammer will also provide a phony story about being out of the country for work (or worse, they'll indicate they're performing charitable work, and include a link to a reputable non-profit group, claiming affiliation). They'll often advise you to simply drive by the home, and not attempt to enter it. And of course, they'll tell you to ignore any "For Sale" signs you see on the property, claiming that the agent they were previously using neglected to remove them. When moving day arrives, you will have nowhere to live and you will have lost any that money you spent on your deposit. It is increasingly easy for criminals to do this based on the fact that so many homes sit vacant for such a long period of time these days.

Foreclosure Rental Scams

Another rental scam that's very similar to the previously mentioned scam involves foreclosed homes. Criminals will break into homes that are in foreclosure, knowing the foreclosure process takes such a long time, and they will change the locks. Upon doing this, they will locate renters, show the house, have you sign fake rental documents and take your cash deposit. As long as no one else tries to enter the house, the criminal will collect your rent money every month, profiting on your ignorance to the situation.

Unavailable House Scams

Some Florida crooks are using the internet to rent homes and apartments to unsuspecting renters. These apartments and homes are real, but they are not available. When you pay your deposit and first month's rent, the criminal takes it and runs. When you go to move into your home, you will find that it is not actually for rent or that someone already lives in it, and that the landlord to whom you paid your deposit to does not actually exist or has vanished.

Spotting Scams

It's not always easy to spot a rental scam in Florida. However, if you come across an agent or landlord who will not accept a check or credit card as a deposit, run away. Criminals typically ask that you pay either cash or through a bank wire transfer. This makes it more difficult for you to track them down when they take your money. Additionally, significantly low rental rates are another red flag. When priced so far below market value, it could indicate that a criminal is merely looking to get someone in quickly so they can take their money and run. Avoid situations like these at all costs.

Unfortunately, crooks and criminals are everywhere. By learning what scams are most likely to occur in Florid and how to avoid becoming a victim of such a scam, you are more likely to save your money and find a lovely home to rent. Dealing with reputable rental firms and avoiding rentals on sites such as Craigslist and other non-MLS type sites can also decrease your chances of becoming a fraud victim.

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