Consumer Alert: Watch Out for Rental Property Scammers Taking You for a Ride on a Property
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Consumer Alert: Watch Out for Rental Property Scammers Taking You for a Ride on a Property

Scammers often advertise home and apartment rentals on sites like Craigslist that don't exist or are not actually available for rent

November 25, 2019

Are you in the market for a new apartment or want to rent a nice home? You're in luck! Scammers have just the deal for you! They have a wide variety of options for you to consider, each one with everything you could possibly want. Even better, the price is much better than you could have wanted. But while the property might exist, the only problem is that the rentals themselves don't really exist.

What's the con?

Scammers often advertise house and apartment rentals that don't exist or are not available to rent in order to trick you into handing over your money. They try to lure you in with the promise of low rent, great amenities, the perfect location, etc. The goal, however, is to get you to fork over some money before you realize it's a scam.

Pay a fee before visiting a property

Rental scams are most often looming on Internet sites, such as Craigslist. When you're dealing with someone via the Internet, you never really know what you're getting into. The easiest thing for scammers to do is convince you to pay an upfront fee, usually a deposit, in order to see a property that may or may not exist. Once the money gets sent, the scammer disappears before you step foot on a property that may or may not exist. You should never pay an upfront fee to see a property.

Rental hacking

Scammers find that it's easy to use someone's existing rental or real estate listing to scam you. This can be done either by hacking the original listing and changing the contact information. Or it could be done by copying the listing and placing it in a different place with the modified contact information. When you reach out to inquire about the property, you get sent to the scammer and not the person listing it. You may be able to spot scammers using someone else's listing by searching the web for the property in question and seeing if different contact info comes up.

Using someone's home

Some scammers gain access to a home by either finding an unlocked door or window, stealing a key, picking the lock or simply breaking in. The scammer then posts an ad for the property but for a very low rent, which sends prospective renters flocking to it. But since a lot of people want to see the property, you'd better sign a lease right away and put down a deposit and the first month's rent, or so the scammer says. Then the scammer disappears with your money and the money of countless other victims who showed up to see the property. When you show up to move in, you end up with a big surprise and nowhere to live.

Never pay money upfront

A red flag that you're dealing with a scam is being asked for cash, a money order, or a gift card upfront and not being allowed to use other methods of payment, such as 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.

Wiring money and using gift cards

If you are told to wire money or pay with gift cards, it's definitely a scam. There will never a good reason to wire money or use a gift card 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 and using a gift card is the same as sending cash. Once you send it, you have no way to get it back.

watch for 'for sale' signs

Since foreclosed or vacant homes are often a location for this type of scam, take note of any signs in the front yard. A home that is being listed for sale is usually not going to be rented out. Call the number on the sign and start asking questions. You may find that the person you are meeting has nothing to do with the property. You should also look for public real estate records. Bank-owned properties will never be listed for rent.

Be skeptical of low rent

Whenever you run into something that is drastically cheaper than it should be, there's something wrong. So you should be skeptical and on alert whenever you run into a listing that is advertising very low rent. More often than not, you'll be facing a scammer trying to take your money. Yes. It is possible that you've found a really good deal. But the odds are not in your favor.

Walk away from high pressure

You see high pressure tactics in sales quite often, such as when you're buying a car or furniture. But you shouldn't be seeing it when shopping for a rental. If someone is trying to get you to make an immediate decision or to make immediate payment, red flags should go up and you should walk away.

REPORT ALL SUSPECTED SCAMS

If you are or suspect that you are the victim of a scam or some other illegal practice, you should file a complaint. Doing so can help protect your rights and protect others from becoming victims. If you suspect you are dealing with a scamming, you should first stop all contact to minimize that chances of further losses. Don't respond to scammers via phone, text message, email or postal mail.

In North Carolina, you can report scams and other illegal practices to the North Carolina Attorney General's Office. If you live outside North Carolina, report it to your state Attorney General. You can also submit a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), which is co-sponsored by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C).