Competition grows fiercer by the day in the nation’s hottest housing markets, and that translates to a competitive rental market as well. But this uptick in demand for apartments and rental homes has resulted in a tighter rental market, opening the door for scammers preying on the desperate.
In fact, the Better Business Bureau warns renters to beware of scammers posing as landlords in a bid to steal cash and personal information by posting fake properties for rent. A successful scam can con someone into giving out personal details like bank account information and Social Security numbers, all in the hopes of obtaining a rental property before someone else nabs it. Unfortunately, if you don’t already have an ID theft protection service to help alert and protect you from fraud, the damage can take years to undo.
Here’s how rental scam listings works: Con artists steal a posted rental listing and rework the information to include their contact info. They’re likely to handle the deal over the phone, citing circumstances beyond their control that prevent an in-person meeting or quick property tour. With 3-D property tours now a standard feature, it’s easy to see how someone in a pinch might feel that an online photo tour can temporarily suffice. Or perhaps a drive-by of the property is suggested to ease concerns.
And then, when interest is piqued, and urgency is stressed, an emailed contract is pushed to ensure the property can’t be picked up by another renter. A deposit is requested, and perhaps even the first month’s rent, while keys are said to be on their way. But no key arrives, the contact has vanished, and the cash is gone.
The best way to help protect yourself from this type of fraud is to work with a reputable real estate agent, leasing agency or property manager. These days, finding and leasing an apartment online in a completely virtual transaction is too risky. Suppose you find yourself dealing directly with a landlord, research to confirm that they truly own the property. Whenever possible, deposits or fees should be paid with a check or credit card, never through electronic payment platforms like Venmo or Zelle – that way, you at least have an opportunity to dispute the charges.
But while you may take steps to help ensure that you won’t fall victim to rental scams, others might not catch on. So if you see a suspicious rental ad online, report it to your state consumer protection, local law enforcement or FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center.