Lease scams target active-duty military

  • Published
  • By Maj. Jimmy Brownlee
  • Army Special Operations Command Public Affairs
The beginning of summer traditionally marks the start of the permanent change of station or PCS "season". For the military member the need, coupled with the pressure and competition from other potential home seekers, to find good housing at an affordable price, in a relatively short period of time could leave them vulnerable to housing scams.

A typical housing scam usually involves an advertisement found on the internet for an apartment or single family home available for immediate rent or lease. Many of those running the scams go to great lengths to add credibility to their pitch by providing as much information about the listed property as possible, including pictures. These added pieces lend credibility to their story and tend to ease the mind of their potential victim. However, people can avoid becoming victims altogether by staying alert, picking up on the signs of a scam and doing their homework.

For example, just recently an incoming service member answered an advertisement listed on the popular posting site Craigslist. In this particular case, neither the owner nor the property management company knew their property was being used in a scam.

When the service member responded to the ad by calling the listed phone number, a man answered saying he was a missionary working in Nigeria and wanted to rent the house until he returned. The man then asked the service member for personal information. He also asked the service member to wire a security deposit and first month's rent to an eastern European location where he would be moving to in the near future. The missionary promised to send the signed lease and keys to the service member as soon as he received the money.

Smartly, the service member saw the warning signs of a scam and decided to investigate further before revealing any personal information or sending the requested funds. When the service member asked a neighbor about the property they confirmed the owner was not in Nigeria and actually lived close by.

To avoid scams such as these, it is important to exercise common sense and trust your "gut instinct." Be cautious and employ due diligence as you search for a property to rent or lease.

Specifically, be sure to:
· Never pay without first seeing the apartment with the landlord/owner in-person.
· If asked to pay an upfront fee for a background or credit check, ask to perform the check yourself.
· Make sure a potential landlord has a local office, phone number and a business card.
· Never give out credit card information; pay through checks.
· If you have any doubts or suspicions, contact your base legal office or a civilian attorney.
There is also an "Avoid Scams" link on Craigslist. It lists common sense rules for conducting transactions. Everyone needs to make sure all families, who aren't experienced in dealing with rental properties are aware of the possible scams.

(Editor's note: Eglin Air Force Base's legal office contributed to this article.)