BBB is warning renters and realtors to be on the lookout for phony ads on craigslist and other Internet services when selling a home or looking for a rental property. Bogus ads for rental properties across the country are cropping up aimed at stealing money from unsuspecting renters. In most cases, the perpetrator of the fraud is out of the country and claims to be unable to show the home or to provide additional photos when requested. However, the most recent evidence indicates that there are scam artists working locally as “For Sale” signs are missing from yards soon as the ad is available on the intranet.
How does the scam work? Criminals typically search websites which list homes for sale. They then hijack the information and post it with their own email address under the housing rentals category. The houses are almost always listed with below market rental rates with the explanation that the owner had to leave the U.S. because of a missionary contract or a new job.
A Tyler area real estate agent was informed that a rental ad for a home she had listed was on Craigslist for an amount considerably less than the market value. The house was listed on her website for approximately $170,000, however, the online rental ad listed the monthly rental at $850 per month.
The victims are told by the supposed landlord to wire as much as $1400 as a deposit. Once the money is sent, however, no keys are received, and the listing disappears.
To make it appear even more legitimate, renters may be asked to fill out a credit application. This provides the schemer with access to information with which they can commit identity theft in the future.
“Online ads have made finding rental properties much more convenient for consumers, and many prospective renters have successfully found homes through online classified ads”, said Mechele Agbayani Mills, President and CEO of BBB Serving Central East Texas. “Unfortunately, though, what is convenient for consumers is very appealing to someone trying to take advantage of them.”
BBB provides the following red flags when looking to lease a home:
The deal sounds too good to be true. Scammers will often list a rental for avery low price to lure victims. Research the average rental rates in the area,and if the rental comes in suspiciously low, consider walking away.
The“landlord” is located elsewhere and prefers to communicate via email. Scammers might say they have just been relocated out of the country for a job or missionary work. Only deal with landlords/real estate agents/property management companies if you can meet them face-to-face and tour the property together.
Thelandlord requires a substantial deposit before handing over the keys or evenshowing the property. Don’tpay any money before inspecting the home, inside and out. A reputable realtor/property management company will allow potential home renters to view and see the property before taking any money.
The landlord asks the renter to wire money through services such as Western Unionor Money Gram. Money sent via wire transfer service is extremely difficult to retrieve. Once the scammers have picked it up, there is little recourse, if any, for getting any money back.
BBB also advises realtors to do an internet search for newly listed properties to ensure properties they have listed are not being used by scam artists to execute this injustice.
Formore information on how to be a savvy consumer, go to www.bbb.org.To report a fraud or scam, call the BBB Hotline: (903)581-8373.