In a hot real estate market, apartment rental scams are increasing dramatically. According to the FBI, last year victims of apartment rental scams lost 350 million dollars, a 64% increase over the previous year. Since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, more and more people have been going online looking for home and apartment rentals rather than meeting with landlords in person. Fortunately, there are many online listings of legitimate real estate agents and landlords. These websites can be easy and efficient ways to locate a home. However, unfortunately there are also many scammers attempting to rent apartments to you that they do not own.
Scammers often go to Craigslist and other similar sites to post their phony apartment listings. The scam usually starts with a listing that looks quite legitimate and there is a good reason for that. The listing is often a real on-line listing that has been copied by the scammer who merely puts in his or her name and contact information. The price is usually very low which attracts a lot of potential renters. The potential renters are sometimes told that the owner is out of the country and that there are many people interested in the property so if the tenant wants to be considered for renting it, the tenant has to wire money to the landlord somewhere outside of the country immediately. As I have warned you many times, wiring money is a scammer’s first choice because it is all but impossible to retrieve once you learn that you have been scammed. Too often, unwary potential tenants wire the money and never hear anything further from the scam landlord. As for the money, it is gone forever.
There are a number of red flags to look for in home rental scams. First, as always, if the price looks too good to be true, it usually is just that – not true. Also be wary of landlords who are out of the country. Never send your payment by a wire transfer or a cashier’s check. Use a credit card, PayPal or any other payment system from which you can retrieve your funds if the transaction is fraudulent. It is usually best to deal with websites that specialize in home rentals but you must remember that they cannot possibly successfully monitor every listing to ensure that it is legitimate.
A great and easy way to determine if the listing is a scam is to check out who really is the owner of the home or apartment by going on line to the tax assessor’s office of the city or town where the property is located and look up who the real owner is. If it doesn’t match the name of the person attempting to rent you the home, you should not go through with the rental.
You also can search the address online to see if the property is listed for sale by a different real estate agent or owner or if other listings show different contact information elsewhere. This is an indication that the listing is a scam. Finally, search online the name of the owner with the word “scam” next to his or her name and see if anything comes up to make you concerned.
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