Hi there! We handle a lot of rentals for clients and are often contacted when individuals want to avoid scams. My best advice to you if you are dealing direct with the landlord is to take these steps:
1) If you haven't already, ask the landlord for their first and last name -- once you have this in hand, verify again public tax records -- typically you can visit any counties website and look up PUBLIC RECORDS. The landlord's name should match. Note: this is not a guarantee it is not a scam, scammers are smart -- but this is a good first step and gives you an opportunity to question if the name is different
2) If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is
3) Google the property address, look for discrepancies in their ad. For example if you see a rental on craigslist, trulia, zillow, etc and it is listed for $1100 a month but you see the SAME property on a real estate brokerage / agent's website listed for $1800 -- the scammer most likely copied photos and listing info off the legit ad, in some cases will post using the agents name in the ad with a link to the scammers email address. Again, if it sounds too good to be true...well move on to the next one.
4) Don't assume if you can get in to a property the person is the property owner, we had an instance where a scammer broke into a vacant home for sale and showed the property, signed a lease and took hefty cash deposits and rent and was never to be seen again.
5) Unless you are working with a licensed agent / broker or you know the owner personally, you should not write checks for deposits or rent unless you have PROOF the indiviudal you are speaking with is the owner. How do you do this? Simple, when you are at the point where you are being asked to provide monies, let them know that rental scams are a big problem on the internet and that you would like to see legal ID before handing them over money, if a legitimate owner this will not be a problem -- if it is, move on to the next one.
6) Be very cautious of landlords who indicate they are out of town and not available and need funds wired. This is not to say that an out of state landlord won't rent their home but again, this matter can be resolved by following steps above.
Great video from GET JESSE on King 5 news on our website that talks about rental scams here in the NW: http://www.searchseattle.net/rentals.php
Best of luck to you!