Rental Scams

Rental Scams

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Sometimes I forget that people don’t know what I do. They may know I’m a realtor, but that word can encompass so many roles. My nature is also very nurturing and problem-solving. When I was out at the parades Sunday and got a message from a young-sounding woman named Hannah, I was hoping that what I thought I heard (through the noise of the bands and shouting for beads) was not accurate. I waited until I got home to call her back so I could hear her, and when I did, I knew she had been the victim of a rental scam.

Hannah’s Story

Hannah needed a place to stay for 2 months. She saw a house on Facebook Marketplace and loved it. Because the “owner’s” story seemed believable, she trusted that it was true. They worked out the details of where to send the security deposit and first month’s rent (in the form of a money order that he had insisted she get), and she sent it to the address he gave to her. When she was at a parade on Saturday, she passed the house, saw my sign, saw the lockbox, and felt uneasy. On Sunday, she decided to call me, and that is when we pieced together that she was party to one of the rental scams that pollutes the real estate market.

What Are Rental Scams?

According to Hannah, the following things were done that, in hindsight, were highly suspicious and clear that it was part of the rental scams hitting Craigslist and social media platforms:

  • Younger Renters More At Risk

    Younger renters are more likely to experience rental fraud, with 9.1 percent of 18 to 29-year-old renters having lost money on a rental scam, compared to 6.4 percent of all renters.

  • Most Lose $1,000 or More

    Of renters who have lost money in rental scams, one in three have lost over $1,000, likely after paying a security deposit or rent on a fraudulent property.

  • Hard Lessons Learned

    An estimated 88.3 percent of renters who have lost money from rental fraud changed how they search for rentals. For example, some conduct additional research and others make sure to visit properties before paying.

How Do I Know If I Have Become the Victim of Rental Scams?

Usa.gov says it best in their article about Housing Market Scams: “Rental scams happen when either a property owner or potential tenant misrepresent themselves. Rental scams also misrepresent the terms and availability of a rental property. Fake ads and fake responses to rental ads can hurt both tenants and property owners.” While Hannah may feel like she’s all alone, unfortunately, her experience is all too common. According to a 2018 study from ApartmentList, an estimated 43.1 percent of renters have encountered a listing they suspected was fraudulent, and 5.2 million U.S. renters have lost money from rental fraud.

  • Sketchy Owner Behavior

    The “owner” would/could not show her the house. He told her to go by and look through the windows and doors to make sure she liked it.

  • Unprofessional Communication

    There were heavy grammatical errors in the emails that were sent back and forth.

  • Changing Stories

    An elaborate story was made up as to where this person was and where to send the money, which changed several times as to whom the check was being mailed.

  • Offer Too Good to Be True

    The price was “too good to be true” (because it was).

  • Shady Social Media Offers

    The ad was made over a social media platform and taken down immediately after the conversation started about Hannah wanting the house to rent.

What Should I Do If I Am a Victim of Rental Scams?

In Hannah’s case, I encouraged her to call USPS and see if they can intercept the envelope with the money order.

  • Call Law Enforcement

    Always contact your local law enforcement if you’ve been scammed. The information given to the police may be enough to help them apprehend the scammer and recover your money.

  • Report it to the FBI

    Report it to the FBI online complaint division. Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center

  • Report it to the FTC

    Many people aren’t aware that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the federal consumer protection agency, accepts rental scam complaints. Call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant. FTC's Online Complaint Assistant

Always Work with a Reputable Real Estate Agent

Hannah is one of many phone calls I have gotten about a listing being advertised illegally. Her story prompted me to write this blog and make as many people aware of rental scams as I can. I am currently helping her find a place to live for the two months she needs housing. I would never leave a person in a lurch knowing I could do something to help. I’ll leave the authorities to do their job of getting her money back, and I will make sure she has a roof over her head. It’s the Liz Wood Realty way of doing things.