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Tip #271: Alter Ego?

A landlord in Ohio reports this week that he is fighting with scammers who are reposting his Craigslist rental ads in an attempt to steal deposits from unknowing prospective renters.

They copied his ad — photos and all — but inserted their own contact information. One ad claimed the rent had been lowered by nearly $300 a month.

This is not a new scam, and is becoming increasingly common. It’s a modern take on the classic “Smoke and Mirrors” con — prospective tenants are asked to send a deposit to an out-of-town landlord who will forward the keys. But, of course, the keys never arrive.  It’s a problem for the unsuspecting landlord because it leaves renters hopping mad and usually involves a talk with local law authorities.

This landlord says he is attempting his own investigation, and is posting warnings to new prospects, but this kind of problem can slow down the process of finding a new tenant, and even scare away good prospects.   It’s something all landlords need to be aware of and guard against:

You should think about checking up on the sites you post your ads on. If it’s on Craigslist, you want to look at the ads daily to spot any fakes of your property. Make sure to flag ads and alert the proper authorities if you find a scam ad.

If Craigslist is becoming problematic, you may think about using another listing site. That may cut the risk. Thieves like the anonymity that Craigslist offers them. Tenants, on the other hand,  don’t care which service you use — from their viewpoint, all of the listing services are free.

Protect yourself and your prospective tenants by using watermarked photos in your ads. This is a great way to deter theft. There are many different watermark programs available these days, including free online versions. A quick search of the Net and you will likely find one you are comfortable using.

It’s usually wise to limit the information you give out in the ad. Don’t put the exact address, instead list the major cross streets. Once you’ve screened the callers, you can divulge more information. You might think about digging a little deeper over the phone if you’re afraid that the “prospective tenant” is the scammer trying to get more info.

See last week’s Landlord Quick Tip.

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