As a travel nurse looking for short-term rentals, you have to be absolutely diligent about who you decide to work with. This article will provide you with a handful of ways to protect yourself when looking for travel nurse housing online.
If it’s on the web, it’s vulnerable to scams... and you have to be the voice of reason! It could be a variety of scam types but the fake ad, spoof ad, and the identity theft ad are the 3 most common.
The fake ad is easier to spot than others, but can still be effective. A spoof ad is where they copy a legitimate ad, but lower the price and change the contact information. Even harder to spot, the identity-theft ad is where the scammer assumes the identity of the real owner of the property being advertised. No matter the scam-type, they all have one thing in common: they all want you to send money to secure the unit.
You’ll hear a couple of phrases thrown around a lot when researching how to protect yourself against online housing scams. The first one is, “listen to your instinct...it’s probably right.” And the other one is, “if it seems too good to be true, it usually is.”
There is a reason that these common phrases have been passed down from generation to generation, and even today, they have never been so applicable. Here are the top 10 things to look for to ensure you don’t get scammed when securing short term furnished rentals:
1. Never wire funds.
Let me repeat that. Don’t wire funds. Ever. Once you wire, you can’t get it back. Period. This is why scammers like wires. There are so many easy ways to transfer money and make your rent payments these days, and none of them involve setting up a wire.
There are pros and cons with each of these online payment providers as Paypal may charge you a percentage and Venmo may kick you off if they feel you're using it incorrectly.
We highly recommend our partner platform, Keycheck, to help landlords manage tenants and accept online rent payments. This secure platform not only screens potential tenants but allows you to collect rent online.
2. Never, ever wire funds!
(See #1) It's so important, it bears repeating. Just don't do it. If you only take one thing away from this article, it's this: if someone insists on a wire, they're a bad actor. Stop communicating with that person immediately. Legitimate landlords will never ask for a wire.
3. Find out who the owner on record is.
You can submit a free owner verification report right from the homepage ofwhere they’ll scrub the county data for the current owner information on record and also check for foreclosure or pre-foreclosure (where a lot of fraud can occur). No matter where you get the data, find out who the county says owns the property. If the name is anything other than the person you’re speaking to, it could be cause for suspicion. Of course there could be a property manager involved, or it could be owned by an LLC, but this is the first step towards checking the landlords story.
Remember when your parents would ask you if you knew anything about the broken lamp, or the ever so intimidating question, “Is there something you’d like to tell us”? They already knew the answer...they just wanted to see how you’d respond.
It’s the same thing here. Get informed and then ask questions to the landlord to check out his/her story. If they check out, great! If not, you might have a scammer on your hands!
If you have the address, look it up to see if it’s listed somewhere else at a different rate. Likewise for the email address… look it up to see if anything looks fishy.
4. Ask when the property is available to view.
Their answer might just tell you everything! If they immediately launch into an emotional story about them being out of town (or commonly out of the country) for whatever reason, this can be a telltale sign that you’re speaking with a scammer.
Landlords travel all the time… that’s not the issue. The issue is that the property isn’t available to view. If they’re a legitimate landlord, they will have someone to conduct showings and/or a system in place (remote entry/wifi locks) to accommodate showings.
We realize that many travel nurses book sight-unseen, but you should still ask this question to see how they respond.
5. Remember where the listing came from.
The key point here is; Did the listing originate from a free site? This may be one more checkmark in the NO column when deciding if you’re working with a legitimate landlord or not. Now, realizing that no website is 100% immune from scammers, learn a little more about the site you originally viewed the listing on.
Free sites will always have more scammers than paid sites. Here are the most frequently used free sites (click the link to report a known scam):
*These are all fine companies who have sophisticated fraud filters in place, but scammers are relentless, and are always evolving.
6. Is the price better than anything else on the market?
Scammers know that when they price a high-value property slightly (or significantly) under market, it’s going to get your attention...and depending how urgently you need to secure housing, it can get a little sticky because our first instinct may be to get the unit before anyone else does. They count on these highly emotional responses, and exploit your situation so they can use it against you.
Real image used in an identity theft scam which was thwarted by our system.
They’ll use professional images a lot of the time, which are very inviting, but the price always tells the story. You should be highly suspect of a nice looking unit that is under priced.
*Be careful not to rationionalize yourself into a scam… “well maybe this landlord just doesn’t know the area very well” or “maybe they’re just really motivated to rent it.” The human brain may work against you in these scenarios.
7. Usually in very competitive markets.
Based on what we’ve seen, they want to be in competitive markets so they can really stand out in a crowd (since they’re usually $500-$1000 less than everything else). Also, they want to get the most amount of “deposit money” they can from you, so the higher the advertised rate, the higher the amount they’ll be asking you to wire.
8. Frequent misspellings.
They could be working out of any country, trying to blend in as a San Francisco landlord, but misspellings are a dead giveaway. Slips of the thumb are one thing, but gross errors should be red flags for you to stop communicating with that person immediately, and look elsewhere for housing.
Here’s a real email from a scammer to show you how the formatting and the language is just a bit off:
This is the last thing you want happen to you...a bank confirmation of the money you just wired to a scammer. The only reason I put this in there is because I hope it sticks with you and makes you think! I promise that the person who lost their money below didn’t ever think it would happen to them either.
9. Google image search
This is a powerful tool that can yield some very interesting results that you may not find otherwise. The goal is always to catch them red-handed, but the data you get may be a little more subtle. Either way, it’s usually very helpful. For instance, it can tell you what other listings or ads that image has also been used in. You can learn the address, when it was sold, how much it’s worth, and if it’s being advertised elsewhere for a different amount with different contact information.
The more you dig, the more you’ll find. Hopefully everything checks out, but if it doesn’t, cut bait and keep looking.
You can do a Google image search here:
10. Odd communication hours
Lastly, it’s well known that many scammers are operating outside this country, so another sign of a possible scam is odd communication hours. Does the guy you’re communicating with respond late at night or early morning? You might be chatting with a scammer.
Use these 10 traits of an online housing scammer to weed out bad operators and stay safe when you travel for work.
I hope these 10 things will bounce around in your brain for a while as it's my hope to protect our travel nurses by education and information. Be relentless with your fact checking and do your due diligence. Do like your parents used to do... ask them questions you already know the answers to and see how they respond. And most of all, listen to that voice in the back of your head because if something seems a little bit "off", it probably is.
Good luck and safe travels!