RENO, Nev. Websites like Craig's List and Trulia can be good resources if you're searching for a new place to rent. But be careful when browsing for houses.
When 24 year old Isreal Covarrubias was looking for a new house to rent, he did what most young people do in the age of technology. He went to the internet.
After some searching, he came across a site called Trulia. The company boasts itself as 'an online residential real estate site for home buyers, sellers, renters and real estate professionals'.
"As far as the ratings go, it's a trusted site," Covarrubias said.
That's where he found, what he thought was the perfect home. For $900 a month, he could rent a 3 bedroom 2 bath house.
"I liked it," he said. "I was like wow! the average rent in that area is $1300 or $1400. I was skeptical, but basically I was hoping it was legit."
Covarrubias said the "owner" claimed he was a reverend who was spending the next 3 year in Texas and wanted to rent out his home. But after a series of emails, filled with inconsistencies, Covarrubias became suspicious and ultimately backed away from the home as soon as he was asked to wire money into a fund.
As it turns out, Covarrubias' skepticism was founded. He has found himself caught in an online scam. Scammers will rip property ads from reputable property management companies and post them as their own. The only difference is they will ask for significantly lower rent.
Marc Sykes of Dickson Realty at Caughlin Crossing says the rent discrepancy is by design.
"They're trying to turn it quickly," he said. The rental market is unbelievably tight right now, and by under pricing the properties, people who are really looking jump on it. The person perpetrating the scam can turn 3 or 4 properties in a weekend and do really well."
If you are searching online for a new home, be wary of online ads that don't have a company name. Realtors and property managers are required by law to place their company's name on the ad.
If you don't see a name, you may be dealing with a private owner. If that's the case, do a quick, free search with the Washoe County Assessor just to make sure the person has a legitimate claim to the property.
Sykes also warns people to never wire money into an account. Property managers will most likely ask for a cashier's check you asking for the deposit.
"This is definitely fraud," Sykes said. "If they've been hit and they are out the money, contact the local police. I would also encourage you to contact the real estate division and sometimes you can be reimbursed."
Corrubias says even though he gave away personal information like his license plate number and email, this experience hasn't made him shy away from using the internet to find a place to live.
"It's not the website's fault," he said. "It' just made me more cautious."