PHOENIX -- If you're looking to rent a home, make sure you don't get taken to the cleaners by scammers.
Adam Levin, president and CEO of Scottsdale-based Identity Theft 911, has some tips for how to spot a scammer.
"What they're trying to do is convince you to rent a property that doesn't exist," said Levin. "Either it doesn't exist because there's no property at the actual address, or it's an abandoned property or it's a commercial property that they're trying to make you believe is a residential property."
These scammers may show you pictures of a house to try and convince you to give up your information and wire them money, Levin said.
And as far as getting in touch with them, good luck, he said.
"It's very difficult to communicate with them other than email. They won't take telephone calls and you'll never be able to see the property in advance of whatever your start date is," said Levin.
Levin also has these tips to help you avoid being scammed:
If you can't view the property beforehand, do a search of the address to determine if the property really exists; scammers may simply invent a phony address. Also check to see if it's really for sale (noted by listing at multiple realtor websites) and/or if it's a residential property -- not a business. Clicking the "Maps" tab provides an aerial view on any home-finder site allows for a close-up view of what is at that location, if it exists.
Check the owner's or listing agent's name and contact information. This search may reveal if similar ads have been placed in other cities, indicating a scam. It's also wise to cut and paste chunks of descriptive from the ad into Google to determine if it's been copied from elsewhere, since fraudsters often copy real ads and just lower the price to dupe prospective renters.
Owners who claim they can't show you the rental in person because they're traveling on business are usually scammers who may be overseas.
Typically avoid those who only want to communicate by email -- especially when claiming to be realtors who use free Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail accounts, as opposed to accounts that note an agency name. At the very least, talking (ideally) in person is also better for getting specifics about the property than can be ignored via email and gauge accents of overseas fraudsters.
If dealing with people who say they're the owners, ask for proof of ownership and for their identities, such as a copy of a driver's license that can be cross-checked with the recorder of deeds or assessor's office where the rental is located. For most areas, you can do this online. You can also order detailed reports about landlords and properties at CheckYourLandlord.com.