Landlord-Impersonation Scams Rise in California

This month, Los Angeles' D.A. warned citizens to be on the watch for scams when renting apartments due to an increase in rental fraud. Unfortunately the increase in foreclosures and empty properties means there are more places for the dishonest to swindle would-be renters.

Though a San Francisco assemblywoman is pushing a bill to elevate the crime of landlord impersonation from misdemeanor to felony grand theft, the best cure is always prevention. Taking extra precautions when you view a property can help you avoid getting taken for thousands of dollars.

Here's how the rental con works and how to protect yourself....
Too Good to Be True
Most landlord-impersonation cases start with a really cheap listing, so be aware of the typical monthly rents for an apartment or house in the areas you're looking in.

How It Works
The scam goes something like this: They list an apartment on a website. A person calls for a showing, fills out the application and then hours later or the next day is told that they can have the apartment if they hand over the money immediately -- in cash. That's hint number two that it might not be legit. So the renter hands over cash which is never seen again (as most people who commit these crimes don't get caught).

Warning Signs
Other things to watch out for: The "landlord" doesn't give you a home or business address, or insists on sending a messenger for the money. One way to avoid this pitfall: Ask the neighbors if they know the owner.

Breaking In
How do they get into the property? Foreclosed properties are often empty, so scam artists can switch a lock and take over for a day or two, just long enough to take the money and run. It's really that simple.

Do Your Homework
You might think a renter can't do research, but you can and should. A real landlord won't mind. And a fake landlord might not like you for it, but what do you care?

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