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By Ashleigh, K-Staff
Rentals are in high demand. That means when you find a property that fits all your needs, you need to jump on it to have a chance. But that sense of urgency is driving prospective renters right into the arms of scammers. Stop to ask yourself—is the listing that you’ve found real?
It’s no secret that finding a new home is stressful and let’s face it, expensive. Many scammers know this, and they will take advantage of anyone looking for a seemingly sweet deal. Often, a scammer will take a real rental listing and post it on a different website with an alternative email address.
Other clever scammers will find a picture of a pretty house and make a fake listing with a low price and great amenities. By the time a victim discovers the listing isn’t real, the fraudster is already gone with your deposit.
This is a big red flag. There should be no reason why you’d need to wire your application fee, first month’s rent or any other form of payment. Think of wiring just like cash: once you’ve wired your money, you can’t get it back.
Do your research on the owner and the listing. If you find another listing with a different seller’s name, that’s a clue this might be a scam. You can check if a business is real by visiting BBB.org and you can view a business’s profile to see any complaints and reviews. If the potential landlord refuses to let you see the home in person, tell them thanks, but no thanks. If they can’t let you see your new home in person, it’s probably because there isn’t a home.
But don’t worry, says the owner, they’ll just have an “agent” give you your keys. Some scammers will even go as far as making fake keys. If you can’t meet with the landlord face-to-face, it’s best to just walk away.
According to the BBB, rental scams might be more common than you think.
BBB Scam Tracker
|Year||Number of reports from consumers|
|2019 (through October)||264|
Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre
|2019 (through May 30)||197||$137,552|
These numbers from the BBB suggest that the number of individuals that fall victim to this scam have been growing steadily each year.
BBB Scam Tracker
|Age Range||Rental Scams Reported||All Scams Reported|
Unlike many other types of scams, the most victimized age group isn’t older—it’s young people ages 25–34. Often, people in this age range are moving out on their own for the first time and who have little experience with the process of renting or buying. In other words, the ideal target.
Adele lived and worked in Florida until 2017, when she decided to move to St. Louis. She found an apartment on Craigslist at a good price for the area. She sent an email and got a long reply from “Reverend Margaret Finney,” who claimed to be out of the country doing missionary work. Finney said she was looking for a good tenant for the property but could not show the house in person. She asked Adele to drive by the property and ignore the for sale sign in front, explaining she originally intended to sell the property but now wanted to rent it instead. Finney asked Adele to make a $1400 security deposit and pay the first month’s rent before she would send Adele the keys. Adele filled out an application form and returned it to Finney.
Adele did not send money to complete the transaction, however, deciding it was too fishy. She found a different place to rent and moved to St. Louis. A year or so later, she found herself back in the St. Louis rental home market because the owner sold the house she lived in. When she inquired about Zillow and Facebook Marketplace rental home listings, she heard from several “landlords” with the same familiar story – strong people of faith who could not show the house in person because they were out of the country.
Her advice? Never pay without seeing inside the place and meeting the landlord in person.
If you’ve fallen victim to a rental scam or found a potential scam, don’t panic, there are resources that can help you with recovery. You can report fraud to your local law enforcement agency and the FTC. You can also report any phony online ads to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Rental Listing Scams: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0079-rental-listing-scams
Is That Rental Listing Real? A BBB Study of Rental Scams Involving Apartments, Houses and Vacation Properties: https://www.bbb.org/article/news-releases/21033-bbb-investigation-rental-scams
Housing Scams: https://www.usa.gov/housing-scams#item-211837
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