Rental fraud via online postings continued to be a problem in 2013.
Bottom line: you have to be careful; many would-be Renters have provided deposits only to find the person who placed the ad did not even own the property and their deposit has vanished.
If you find yourself interested in a property where the owner/Landlord cannot meet in person I have a few suggestions before you provide a deposit and any confidential information:
a) See if you can find the property using the â€œownersâ€ name at http://www.blockshopper.com
b) Until the adoption of California Government Code Section 6254.21; which, blocks all state and local agencies from providing home address (and other information) of an "elected or appointed official" you could easily check the Countyâ€™s online public tax records to confirm a property's ownership. However, at the very least, you can obtain information on a property an owner should know if you want to toss a few vetting questions to test the credibility of the "owner". Yes, the scammers have access to the same database, so do not drop your guard.
c) Drive by the property for clues regarding the propertyâ€™s habitation.
d) Contact a RealtorÂ® and ask if they can confirm any recent transaction history by the "owner".
e) If you do meet the "owner" in person ask to "take a quick peek" at their Driver's License to confirm identity; although, if they are a "Scammer" they might have a fake one! Therefore, multiple forms of ID should be obtained if at all possible.
f) Ask â€œa RealtorÂ® friendâ€ to research whether a Notice of Default or Trustee Sale has been recorded, which would indicate the owner may lose, or has lost, the property to foreclosure. Regarding this last point see, you would have some protections via:
CA's "Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act" - need to know info!
These links might also prove useful:
Finally, and most importantly, stay safe (always bring a friend if you can) and don't let the need for finding a rental overpower your gut intuition!
Best of luck with your search and subsequent move.