Most people looking for a place to rent start their search online. Internet listings provide a wealth of information beyond price — pictures, floor plans, amenities, perks and a detailed description of the property.
But many of these listing are bogus, created by scammers who hope to steal thousands of dollars in upfront fees for a place they don’t own or don’t have the right to rent. Some properties may not even be for rent.
A report from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) calls it a “massive” problem, that’s getting worse.
Published: July 22, 2018 at 10:19 a.m. ET By Jacob Passy
Nearly half of young renters say they have encountered fraudulent listings
The three-bedroom home on Lexington Court in Largo, Fla., 20 miles north of St. Petersburg, looked like the perfect family home, with a nice front yard, central cooling and laminate floors. For 18 families, it turned it was too good to be true — and at a serious cost.
A married couple, Nicole and David Johnson, allegedly posed as the owners of the rental property, giving tours and collecting more than $25,000 from those families, local television news station WFTS reported in late June.
The home, it turned out, belonged to Nicole Johnson’s parents and was not available for rent. The Johnsons targeted the families using social media and by posting to Craigslist. Local police have called it the largest rental scam they’ve ever seen. Many of the victims only realized that the listing was a fraud when they showed up to the property on the same day and notified police.
Deciding where to move to live or stay for vacation can be exciting, but it raises many questions. What’s the rent? How much is the security deposit? Is it located in a safe area? What are the parking options? Is the unit close to public transportation? Does the property have a laundry facility? When you find an affordable rental home, apartment or vacation home that fits the bill, you may need to take action quickly before someone else gets the unit.
What many people don’t think to ask is if the unit really exists or is actually for rent.
This summer moving season approaches, BBB is seeing an uptick in reports of rental scams. Finding a new place to live is stressful, and scammers know that people in the midst of moving don’t always have time to do the necessary research. Don’t be one of them!
How the Scam Works:
You respond to an online rental listing that touts a beautiful home, low rent, and great amenities. It looks legitimate; con artists often use real photos and descriptions stolen from other websites. The “landlord” replies to your message claiming to be out of town and unable to show the property. One common scenario is that the scammer pretends to have been transferred suddenly for work.
The scammer will then create a false sense of urgency, telling you that others are interested so you must act immediately. They will ask for a security deposit and/or first month’s rent to reserve the property. The scammer may claim that you can see the property through a rental agent – only after you pay the deposit. In some versions, the “landlord” will require prospective tenants to complete an application form, which asks for personal details like Social Security number. No matter the details, once you send the money the result is the same. The “landlord” will stop responding to messages and disappear. Your new home never existed.