With the opening of the Fall college semester many landlords in college towns across the country have been targeted by scammers around the world in a scam that is simple and effective. The “student” calls the prospective landlord in response to an advertisement or listing that the landlord has placed in regard to rental housing. The student then sends a certified check for the full year’s rent, which the landlord deposits. A few days later, after the check has cleared, the student calls the landlord again and informs him or her that his or her plans have changed and that he or she will be attending a different school in a different city. The student then asks for the landlord to return the unused portion of the rent check. All too often the landlord complies and sends a check only to learn that the original check given to the landlord was counterfeit, but unfortunately the check or wired funds sent by the landlord are good and the landlord has been cheated out of thousands of dollars. In another variation of this scam, the check is sent allegedly by the student’s parents with extra money for the child for moving expenses or other expenses of the child and the parents ask the landlord to send the balance of the check above the rental amount to the child at a provided address or bank account. Often the scammer requests that the landlord wire the money.
Always be wary of requests to wire funds. This is a common tactic of scammers because once money is wired, it is almost impossible to get back. The key to the student housing scam is that the landlord trusts the certified check and then believes he or she is prudent by waiting a few days for the check to clear before returning money to the scammers. The problem is that banks only give provisional credit for the amount of the check after a few days. The full check clearing process takes a week or longer and even if you were given provisional credit, you will still be responsible for the funds that you send from your bank account to the scammer. Once the check is found to be counterfeit, the entire amount is debited from your account. If you get a bank check, call the bank that issued the check to confirm it is legitimate and do not release any funds from that check until your bank tells you that it has fully cleared.