Unfortunately, these days it seems scams and rip off artists are around every corner.  As Realtors we run across a rental scam almost daily where the scammer has stolen pictures off the internet of a property for rent or sale, sets up their own fake rental on CraigsList using the photos and tries to lure a trusting tenant to rent the property sight unseen. This happens in both the city and the suburbs.

So what can you do as a property owner to protect yourself?  Our best advice is to set up a Google Alert on your home or rental property.  Google Alerts are simple and free tools to get regular updates about something that interests you, such as your property and your tenants.  Google Alerts will send you an email any time a new web page appears in the top 20 web results or top 10 news results for the terms you specify.

As a landlord, you should set up a Google Alert on your property’s address so you can see whenever someone posts something on the internet about your property to make sure it’s a legitimate post.  You may also want to set up a Google Alert using the name of your tenant so you can be on top of what your tenant is doing in case he or she gets arrested or in trouble for any illegal activities.  We also recommend setting up a Google Alert with your tenant’s telephone number.  This could possibly tip you off if your tenant plans to move without providing notice.  If they place a “MOVING SALE” advertisment on Craigslist with their telephone number it should turn up in a google alert notification.

As a homeowner, we also recommend setting up a Google Alert so you can make sure someone doesn’t try run a rental scam using photos of your property.

It even makes sense for renters to set up a Google Alert on the address where they are living.

(We also recommend parents set up Google Alerts on each of their children using the child’s full legal name, but that’ s another story for another day!)

Setting up a Google Alerts is simple. Go to http://google.com/alerts (note that you’ll need to have a Google login to use the service).   For each Alert, you need to decide the following:

  • Search Terms.  This can be as simple as entering the property address in quotations.  For example: “3537 Chicago Drive.”  You may also want to set up another alert if there are alternate ways your address may appear, for example including the abbreviation for “Drive” (making the alert active for: “3537 Chicago Dr.”) or including the town (such as: “2201 Chicago Dr, Evanston”).  Using quotations around the search terms will help filter the results.
  • Type of information to search. This tells Google which information to include in its search (Everything, News, Blogs, Web, Video, Groups) Setting this to “everything” will include all types of search results.
  •  How often the alert should be sent (as-it-happens, once a day, once a week). Google will send notifications only when it actually finds new material in the top 20 (web) / 10 (news) results, so you won’t be getting messages unless there’s something to report.
  • Volume.  This setting determines how many results you see in each alert.
  •  How you would like to receive the alerts (email or via RSS feed). For each alert you create, a separate email will be sent depending on how often you’ve chosen to receive it. You can also subscribe to the alert via RSS feed in Google Reader instead of email.

Caveat: Google Alerts is not guaranteed to be 100% foolproof or reliable.  And since it only sends alerts when new pages enter into the top searches means it may not be an exhaustive result for every term.  However, it’s a great place to start and helps you cover your bases!

This content is not the product of the National Association of REALTORS®, and may not reflect NAR's viewpoint or position on these topics and NAR does not verify the accuracy of the content.