Consumer Alert: Housing Rental Scams Are on the Rise Nationwide
Scammers often advertise house and apartment rentals on sites like Craigslist that don't exist or are not actually available for rent
With the increasing number of renters on the housing market nationwide, rental scams attempting to mislead and ultimately steal from unsuspecting consumers are on the rise.
What's the con?
Scammers often advertise house and apartment rentals that don't exist or are not actually available for rent to trick people into handing over money. They may try to lure you in with the promise of low rent or great amenities. Their ultimate goal, however, is to get your money before you figure out that it's all a sham.
You may see these types of scams looming on the internet on sites such as Craigslist. The unscrupulous scammers will gain access to a house either by finding an unlocked door or window, stealing a key, or picking the lock. Then, he or she places an ad for a very low rent, which in turn sends prospective renters flocking to the property.
Of course, a lot of other people want to see the property too, so you'd better sign the lease right away—and put down a deposit and the first month's rent (or so the scam artist tells you).
Some scammers will hijack a real rental or real estate listing by changing the email address or other contact information, and then placing the modified ad on another site. The altered ad may even use the name of the person who posted the original ad.
In other cases, scammers have hijacked the email accounts of property owners on reputable vacation rental websites.
Spotting Rental Scams—Red Flags
The dead giveaway that you're probably dealing with a scam artist is when he or she asks for cash or a money order upfront, but won't take a check. There's always time to stop payment on a check. You can't stop payment on cash or a money order. Once you hand over the payment, the scammer disappears with your money, but not before conning several other people out of their money using the same scheme.
If you're told to wire money, it's surely a scam. There's never a good reason to wire money to pay a security deposit, application fee, first month's rent, or vacation rental fee. That's true even if they send you a contract first. Wiring money is the same as sending cash—once you send it, you have no way to get it back.
Since foreclosed or vacant homes are often a location for this type of scam, take note of the for sale sign in the front yard. If you suspect something, call the number on the sign and start asking questions about the person you're meeting. Also, check public real estate records—bank owned properties should never be for rent.
Bottom line—steer clear when the other person asks for cash. Always be skeptical of unusually low rents, which is a huge red flag, and head for the hills if the person tries high pressure sales tactics in an attempt to get you to make an immediate decision and payment.
Report All Suspected Scams
If you believe that you've been targeted by a rental scam, report it immediately to your local law enforcement agency and to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) online or by calling toll-free (877) FTC-HELP.
In North Carolina, any suspected scam should also be reported to the North Carolina Attorney General's Office.