Rental cons take advantage of stressed-out movers

Rental cons take advantage of stressed-out movers

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Finding a new place to live is stressful. Scammers know people in the midst of moving don’t always have time to do the necessary research. Avoid scams by watching out for these latest tricks.

How this scam works

You respond to an online rental listing that touts a beautiful home, low rent and great amenities. It looks legitimate; con artists often use real photos and descriptions stolen from other websites.

The “landlord” replies to your message claiming to be unable to show the property. In the newest BBB Scam Tracker reports, con artists pretend to be out of town for work or in the hospital with a health emergency.

The scammer will then create a false sense of urgency, telling you others are interested, so you must act immediately. They will ask for a security deposit and/or the first month’s rent to reserve the property.

The scammer may claim you can see the property through a rental agent — only after you pay the deposit. In some versions the “landlord” will require prospective tenants to complete an application form, which asks for personal details like a Social Security number.

One renter reported this experience, “I saw a house for rent on Facebook and reached out. They sent me an application link and requested $50 per adult through CashApp. I sent $100 for two adults and got a confirmation link saying they received the application. After that, they requested $400 to be sent to them to hold the property. I refused since I had not met them in person or seen the house.”

No matter the details, once you send the money, the result is the same. The “landlord” will stop responding to messages and disappear. Renters reported to BBB Scam Tracker they have lost thousands after paying fees to hold an apartment, make a deposit and pay the first month’s rent.

How to avoid rental scams

Watch out for deals that sound too good to be true. Scammers lure you in by promising low rents, extra amenities and a great location. If the price seems much better than elsewhere, it may be a scam.

Search online for similar properties. Do a quick search for the listing, scammer’s email address or phone number. If you find the same ad listed in other cities, that’s a huge red flag.

See the property in person. Don’t send money to someone you’ve never met for an apartment you haven’t seen. If you can’t visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust to go and confirm it is what was advertised.

Don’t pay a stranger with cash-transfer apps. Many scammers now ask for payments through peer-to-peer apps instead of wired funds or prepaid debit/gift cards. Only use these apps with people you know. It's OK to pay a landlord you trust with Venmo, Zelle or another P2P app but don't use this payment method to secure an apartment or pay a deposit.

For more information

Read tips and scam alerts at www.BBB.org/moving. For additional tips review the BBB Scam Alert: Avoid peer-to-peer payment scams at www.bit.ly/TipsDigitalWallets.

If you’ve spotted a scam, whether or not you’ve lost money, report it to www.BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your report can help others avoid falling victim to scams.

Visit www.bbb.org/canton or call 330-454-9401 to look up a business, file a complaint, write a customer review, read tips, find events, follow on social media and more.