1. The name of the person doesn't match the owner of the property (although most now are checking that themselves and even creating email addresses that are using the owners name).
2. The 'owner' is asking you to give him/her your personal information without meeting you first. Do NOT give out your personal information to anyone until you've ensured it is legit.
3. The 'owner' is unable to schedule a showing of the rental property. Many times I've been told that they are telling people to 'just go look in the windows'.
4. The rental price is too good to be true for comparable properties.
These are just a few red flags, there are many more. As someone said, usually if something is too good to be true, it is.
In many respects the internet is like the "wild west" of years ago, when laws were loosely interpreted and rarely enforced. In time we know this will change, but for now it's important to keep your guard up and be ready to defend yourself.
Yes, owners do go abroad. When they do, they find a rental agency to handle the rental for them. They don't conduct business on Craigslist and e-mail.
Contact a Realtor to find rentals listed on the MLS. Many are, though a fair number aren't. If you find one that isn't, first verify who the owner is by checking the tax records. Fairfax County has it all online. Then: Deal face-to-face with someone. It's easy enough for a scammer to find a legitimate listing (either on the MLS or not) and then "hijack" it. Happens all the time.
So, deal face-to-face with someone. Have that someone produce multiple forms of identification to verify his/her identity.It is possible, for instance, that an out-of-town owner will make arrangements with a neighbor to show the house. So you want to make sure that the person showing the house is actually who he/she claims to be. That'll weed out about 95% of the scammers.
Another point: A lot of the scammers attract their victims by offering a property at a below-market rent. In Annandale, for instance, a 4 bed/2bath single-family home might rent for $2,000. If you see an ad offering such a property for $1,500 . . . watch out.
Finally, don't rely on Trulia to do your due dilligence. Either do it yourself, or have someone you can rely on do it for you.
Hope that helps.
PS. If there anything that seem to be too good to be true, it is most likely to be a scam.