Hawaii will always have plenty of renters.
Sky-high real estate prices here create a barrier to homeownership, and these sunny shores lure people from all over the world. There’s also a lot of military personnel who come and go. Homeownership in Honolulu is among the lowest of 75 metropolitan areas tracked by the Census Bureau.
With some of the highest rents in the nation and a large, active rental market, Hawaii has also attracted scammers looking to rip off unsuspecting renters.
“Be wary. They’re out there,” said Doug Wong, who runs Manage Hawaii, a local property management company.
It’s unknown how widespread scams are because many go unreported.
A scammer recently used one of my listings that was for sale. The scammer listed the home on Craigslist for $1,550 a month rent, with utilities included. The going rent for a nice three-bedroom, two-bath house in town should be about double that amount. The fake Craigslist ad used the same description and photos that I created to sell and market the home for sale.
I discovered the scam after getting a call from a woman who said she was interested in renting the home but was wondering why it was so cheap. I told her that the home was in escrow and not for rent. I told her the ad was a scam.
The woman seemed confused, adding that she had been communicating with the “longtime owners.” I told her that was impossible because the longtime owners are deceased and that I was selling the home on behalf of their trust.
The woman seemed a bit startled but thankful she was able to catch the scam in time, as she was preparing to send the scammers a security deposit and first month’s rent, along with her application, which included personal information (including Social Security number).
The scammers identified themselves as “Mr. and Mrs. Daniel.” They claimed they lived in Texas where they volunteer as missionaries. They wrote that the home was available and that they were seeking a clean, responsible tenant. The scammers wrote they had received “many proposals today for my property because it is located in a very nice neighborhood, but I still have to make sure it is rented out to someone who can take good care of it.”
Here is an excerpt of the scammer’s email (typos included) that was sent to the woman, who shared it with me:
“Please note that you can drive by the home to see its exterior and it’s neighborhood and get back to me for further discussion but please do not cause a scene as we have been receiving complains from the neighbors about how people come in and out of the neighborhood. Any sign post will be removed once i get a responsible tenant, so you ignore the sign post and don’t bother to contact the agents there for any reason because i don’t have any agreement with them anymore, so get back to me for the application form if you know you are capable of taking proper care of our house or perhaps experience you have in renting home.”
We flagged the ad and Craigslist took it down.
Here are some tips to avoid being scammed:
>> If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. When spotting an unbelievable deal or an unusually low rent, proceed with caution. Find out why it’s being rented so cheap. Not to say that there aren’t good deals out there, but scammers generally underprice properties.
>> Always view the property. If the owner or their property manager can’t unlock the door for you, that’s a huge red flag. Many scammers will tell you to drive by and fill out an application first, and will make excuses why you can’t actually see the inside of the property.
>> Do your homework. Verify the owner is actually the owner. You can do so by doing a real property search on the city’s website. If the property is being rented by a management company, check that the company is registered with the state.
>> If the property is listed for sale, call the listing agent. If there’s a “For Sale” sign in the yard or you see the property is listed for sale online, call the listing agent. In this most recent incident, the scammer advised the woman not to contact the listing agent, but she called me anyway.
>> Look for multiple rental ads for the same property. It’s not uncommon to see multiple ads, but be careful if you see the same property listed with drastically different prices.
>> Watch for any other red flags. Typos and grammatical errors in emails like my example are additional red flags.
>> Do not send personal information or send/wire money until you have verified everything. Once you send money or information, you might not ever get it back.
Scammers often use Craigslist because it’s popular, easy, free and anonymous.
So when looking for a rental, be on the lookout for red flags.