Imagine this one: you pull up to your new rental at your new duty station, ready to get the keys from the person who is supposed to meet you there. You feel like a PCS Ninja. Not only did you land a great rental at a decent price, you did it before you even got there, and you gave the moving company your new address ahead of time, so your delivery doesn't have to ever go to storage.
Except ... none of it is real.
The person who answers the door says she is the homeowner and she never rented to you. You say "but I transferred you money." The person says "this home is listed for sale, not rent." You are both confused. You are starting to panic.
You are the victim of a major scam. And not only are you never going to see that deposit money again, you have no where to live.
That's pretty much the situation this Navy veteran and his wife found themselves in recently. According to this news story, the couple wire transferred cash for a down payment to a man who claimed to be the home owner. Prior to sending the money they had wondered if it was a scam, but they had driven by the house, looked in the windows and talked to the neighbors. Everything the scammer said checked out.
After the money was sent they found the home for sale on a different website and realized they had been taken for a ride, the story says.
That couple is far from the only ones to whom this has happened. And military families are often victimized on both sides of this scheme. A military spouse will list her house for sale, only to find scammed "renters" at her doorstep, hooked by photos of her house stolen from her listing and posted as a rental elsewhere. And the renters, fresh from their last duty station, are in even more trouble. Not only are they out money, but now they have no place to live.
So how do you avoid this kind of thing?
Real estate experts, like the ladies behind the Military Property Project, say the best way to not end up in a rental scam is to follow good sense while doing a ton of homework. If it smells like a scam, it probably isn't just your imagination. They put together a great list of tips for avoiding scams in this post.
And how do you make sure your home isn't being used to scam other people? That best option is to search your own address to see if anything comes up, said Lauren Rothlisberger, who runs the Military Property Project with Amy Shick. Beyond that there isn't much you can do.
Have you been the victim (or almost victim) of a rental scam? Tell us about it in the comments.