Finding your next apartment, condo, or house for rent can be time consuming and feel like you can never find the right place at the right price.
Scammers know this feeling and can use it to exploit consumers. Consumers should take their time and do their homework before signing a lease.
Home rental scams typically attract consumers with great photos, great amenities, and low rent. They advertise a sense of urgency, pressuring potential tenants to post a security deposit immediately, even if the landlord – meaning a scam artist – claims to be out of town and unable to show the property. In reality, the apartment is already rented or does not exist, leaving the victim hundreds of dollars and potentially homeless.
The same tactics can be applied to vacation rentals, as the proliferation of vacation rental and home-sharing websites makes it easy for travelers and homeowners to manage everything online. Travelers who hopped on an accommodation flight online, after being told it was safe to book quickly, may arrive to find the rental is unavailable or does not exist.
BBB released an in-depth survey of rental fraud in 2019, revealing that 43% of people viewing apartments or vacation rentals online were likely to encounter a fake listing.
Common red flags in an apartment rental scam include:
• Requests to provide prepaid gift card information or transfer funds via MoneyGram, Green Dot MoneyPak or Western Union.
• Typos, grammatical errors, and inappropriate wording or context in the discussion or 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 or phone call are all signs of a potential scam.
• The email address used by the person who posted the ad does not resemble a person’s name. This may be an indicator that this is an auto-generated email account, preferred because it is difficult to trace.
• The “seller” is unwilling to reveal the address of the house 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. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
• The owner is located out of state or in another country and can direct the targets to send money overseas in order to secure the home.
• An identical ad is listed in other cities.
BBB recommends the following tips when looking for accommodation to rent:
• Carefully research the owner and the house. Find the owner’s name, phone number, and email address online. Ask to inspect the property and review the lease before making any decisions. 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 for that area.
• View the property in person. If you can’t visit an apartment, condominium or house yourself, ask someone you trust to confirm that it is what was advertised. Don’t send money to someone you’ve never met for an apartment you haven’t seen.
• Once you have found the right place, make sure you understand your responsibilities and rights as a tenant. Read the lease carefully before signing; if a point is unclear, discuss it with the owner. The lease must tell you the amount of your rent and for what period. It also tells you about services provided by your landlord, such as painting and repairs.
• A security deposit is usually required to offset the landlord’s repair costs for any property damage you cause. Before you sign the lease and move in, find out what your deposit covers and the terms of a refund. Make a list of all damage present when you move in and again when you move out to compare with the landlord’s list.
• Report all rental scams you encounter to BBB Scam Tracker. For further assistance, visit BBB.org.
Michelle Gleba is the Mid-Missouri Regional Director for the Better Business Bureau.