CORPUS CHRISTI, TX — Finding a new place to live can be a time-consuming and tiring process. Those who try to take a short-cut through the process, however, may find that they are opening themselves up to scammers.
Eager renters who rush into agreements without doing the necessary research are often easy targets. In fact, a new study by Better Business Bureau finds that fraud is widespread in the online rental home market, with 43% of online shoppers encountering a fake listing, and more than 5 million consumers losing money to such scams.
While rental scams can take many forms, fraudsters typically copy the photos and description of a property, post it online with their own contact information and try to get a deposit and first month’s rent from the victim. The fraudster may communicate only by email or text message, and may also claim to be out of the country or unavailable to show the property. Once the victim sends money, the fraudster disappears.
In a recent ScamTracker report, a San Antonio resident lost $1,000 to an imitation AirBnB rental linked from Craigslist. The scammer claimed to be a military member overseas and requested a security deposit through MoneyGram. Once the money was received, communication stopped, and the rental turned out to be fake.
According to the BBB, being aware of the following can help keep your money in your pocket:
Watch out for deals that are too good. Scammers lure consumers by promising low rents, great amenities, superb locations, and other perks. If the price seems much better than offered elsewhere, it may be a scam. Search multiple real estate websites to verify a listing’s address and contact info. If you find the same ad listed in other cities, that should be a red flag.
See the property in person. If you cannot visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust to confirm the advertised property. Scammers may manage to sign up as hosts themselves, hijack a legitimate rental or create nonexistent properties. Ask for ID upon arrival.
Communicate and pay through the platform. If you are using a vacation rental platform like HomeAway or AirBnB, beware of "owners" who try to move you off the platform to communicate or send money. Most major travel booking websites offer protection from scams and ways to guarantee payments.
Never wire money to someone you do not know. Stay away from sending money to someone you have never met for an apartment you have not seen. Scammers often claim to be out of the country and instruct targets to send money overseas or to a fake "agent." Wired money and gift cards are extremely difficult to trace.
If you become a victim of a rental scam, you should immediately report it to at least the following agencies:
- Report the scam to BBB at bbb.org/scamtracker.
- Submit a complaint to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) when a scammer uses fake email, text messages, or copycat websites to try to steal your identity or money at www.ic3.gov.
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov.
- File a police report.
To learn more, visit www.bbb.org/rentalscams.