Moving, going on a well-deserved vacation, or maybe your son or daughter has just been accepted to college and you’re trying to find them the perfect rental near campus?
Then you spot the perfect opportunity: “A real flight! 1,400 square foot home for rent, all utilities included – for only $ 500 per month! “
Stealing is the right word, because this ad is nothing more than a scam. The Better Business Bureau warns of rental scams listing fraudulent advertisements on popular marketplace websites.
Scammers copy legitimate posts promoting properties in the area and then re-list the properties as “for rent” with different contact information. These are known as “spoofed ads” and may even use the name of the “real” person who originally posted them.
Other scammers use what are called “ghost rentals” – the ads don’t even exist, but are designed to lure you, their goal, to take your money before you have time to fully check them out. .
A consumer reported to BBB that the “landlord” told her she could move in immediately, with no credit check required. All she had to do was send the security deposit by wire transfer and the keys to the house would be mailed back. The bogus landlord said they were out of town and couldn’t meet to show the house and decided to rent because “real estate agents were inflating the prices.”
Other consumers report going to the property and meeting the so-called owners in person and paying the security deposit in cash, only to find that they have turned their hard-earned money over to a scammer. We’ve even had consumers show up to look at a house for rent, only to find the real owners who still live there with no intention of selling or renting their home.
Fortunately, many consumers contact the BBB first and are able to know the warning signs of such scams before they fall victim to them.
Never pay for a rental without first fully inspecting the property, if the landlord requires payment by wire transfer, leave immediately. Legitimate estate agents and landlords will never ask for payment in this manner or for rent from an invisible person.
The BBB advises consumers to watch out for these red flags of a rental scam:
• Asks you to send a check, money order, or money transfer via MoneyGram, Green Dot MoneyPak, Western Union, or iTunes gift card.
• Typos, grammatical errors, and incorrect wording or context during the discussion or in the announcement.
• When selling or buying items online, requests for a bank account number, social security number, or a code sent to your cell phone via text message or phone call are all signs of a potential scam.
• The email used by the person who posted the ad does not look like a person’s name. This may indicate that it is an auto-generated email account which is preferred because it is difficult to trace.
• The “seller” is unwilling to reveal the home address until you respond to their ad, perhaps by going to a website and filling out a “free credit report”. The sole purpose of this report is to steal your identity.
• You cannot inspect the property before making a decision.
• Rent is much lower than similar properties in the area.
• The owner is conveniently located out of state or in another country.
The BBB suggests that you research the owner and the house carefully. Find the owner’s name, phone number, and email address online. Ask to inspect the property and review the lease before making a decision.
Check local property records to determine if the person is the true owner of the property. You can usually find this information by contacting the tax assessor’s office in that area.
Kelvin Collins is President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau which serves the Fall Line Corridor, which encompasses the Augusta-Aiken metro area. Questions or complaints about a particular business or charity should be directed directly to (800) 763-4222 or [email protected]