I have noticed in my area there are a ton of people advertising rooms for rent, where someone owns a large 3 or 4 bedroom home and is trying to rent the rooms out.
These are usually advertised at $500-600 per month, which seems very attractive, as I currently rent a single bedroom 'luxury' apartment for $1200/month (Only place I could find after moving to Houston after the hurricane).
I started contacting someone at one of these ads, and we started talking, and met.
He didn't give me the address of the place, at the time that we were to meet to go view it. Instead, he asked me to meet him at a different, public place near by, and then had me follow him back to the house.
This on it's own wasn't very suspicious, but adds to a lot of other behavior that has me re-thinking this situation.
I looked at the house, it was alright, we talked a bit, and I decided to 'apply' for the room. The person had me fill out an 'application' that looked like a generic apartment application that had been retrieved from the web.
It had quite a bit of detailed information being asked for on it....
- List of financial institutions
- Account number for bank (I felt a bit suspicious about this but figured maybe they're asking in case I default or for a background check?)
- 3 months of paystubs
- Date of birth
- Emergency contact info
- Address History for past few years
Anyways, I fill this out and give the guy $75 for this 'background check'.
Afterwards, he asks me to fill out this Transunion Smart-move thing, which is more or less a system that's designed to check someone's credit and background without requiring a tenant to give a random person their personal information.
At this point, I don't even know the guy's last name. Just the first name. I get kind of annoyed that I've just given all of my personal information out to a stranger and I ask for their last name so I can add them as a contact in my phone.
I go through all of that, and a few days later, he asks me to meet him to pay the deposit. Here's where I'm fairly concerned - He asked me to pay him the deposit in a money order, and to leave the money order fields blank.
This seems like a bit of a red flag to me. He'd previously—while we were talking—told me he'd want the deposit and rent paid with a money order, which I thought was a bit odd, but asking for me to give him what sounds like would more or less be a blank check seems weird.
I don't have any kind of 'lease' or agreement signed from this person, and don't have any contact information on him other than a name and a phone number.
I tried running a reverse phone lookup on the number, and it says it's a VOIP phone with no name listed.
I went on Google maps / timeline to find out what address we'd driven to after I met him at that public place, and then did a reverse address on whitepages for it and the name associated with that house is very different than this person's name.
My question is, Is this some sort of very elaborate scam?
It seems like it, but I'm not sure how. Money orders can be traced to the recipient, can't they? This person hasn't told me where this money order should be going, but I have a feeling that if I give him a deposit without any sort of 'lease' or rental agremeent there's not really much that could be done to get it back if it turns out to be a scam.
Followup question - If this is a scam, or if I back out of it, what should I do about the fact that this person has all of my personal information?
- Change my bank account number, which I included on the application?
- Fraud alert with credit bureaus?
- Should I get a police report?
Should I consider continuing to speak to this person to find out whether it's a scam or not? I've been thinking of asking him the next time we meet in person to give me some sort of ID or proof that he really does own that property, though I'm sure that would seem like a weird thing for a potential tenant to ask.
Need some guidance here.