Online Rental Scams

The Mill Valley Police Department has recently investigated several cases involving rental scams. In this scam, the “landlord” will list a home or apartment at an unbelievably great price on websites such as Craigslist. They’ll feature photos of a property found online and might even include something such as a free first month rent to sweeten the deal. Because a deal like this won’t last, the victim quickly places a deposit and later finds out that the person they paid was a scammer and doesn’t own the property.

These “landlords” walk away with thousands of dollars in collected fees from potential renters from a single property listing. A slight variation of this scam occurs when a scammer rents a property with the intention of re-renting it to dozens of others.

Things to watch out for:

  • If the price is too good to be true than it’s probably a scam. Look at nearby listings for a true gauge of market rates.
  • Payments collected via wire transfer, money order, Western Union, prepaid Visa or Moneygram should all raise red flags. Scammers prefer these methods of payment as they are often more difficult to track versus traditional deposit methods.
  • Verify the owner. A quick Google search can typically yield a ton of information about the property and determine if it’s listed anywhere else.
  • Beware of communication only through email or text. The scammer will typically avoid meeting you in person or talking on the phone.
  • Look for typos or grammar errors in listings. These are commonly found in scam listings.
  • Never provide your personal information upfront. Doing so will give the scammer vital information such as social security and bank account numbers.
  • Beware of the middleman scam. They'll often claim the owner is unavailable to meet and has trusted them to find a renter. This middleman will attempt to collect rent, a security deposit and various fees and then will disappear with your money.
  • Ask to see the property in person. Scammers may use Covid-19 to their advantage in attempts to prevent meeting at the property. Masks, hand sanitizer, and social distancing can go a long way.

If you have been a victim of a rental scam, please contact the Mill Valley Police Department at 415-389-4100.