Think you’ve found great rental at low price? How to spot and avoid scams

BBB-Scam-Tracker-1

QUINCY — Finding a new place to live is stressful, and apartment hunting moves quickly. People looking for a new rental don’t always have time to do thorough research.

Scammers try to take advantage of this by creating fake rental listings that use photos and descriptions stolen from real listings to look legitimate.

Rental scammers intend to use the fake listing to get your money or personal information. They may tell prospective renters that they can see the property only after paying a deposit or ask them to fill out an application with personal details like a Social Security number (SSN). Once the renter sends the money or submits the form, they’ll stop responding to messages and disappear.

A Quincy resident recently reported a rental scam through BBB’s Scam Tracker. The person said they saw an ad for a rental on social media. Once they inquired about the property, they were asked to send $100 for an application fee. Once the application was accepted, they were asked to send another $550 for a deposit. Both of the payments were made through an electronic payment system. The person finally figured out the listing was not legitimate when they were asked to pay first month’s rent without being able to look at the property.

A 2019 BBB study found that 43 percent of consumers shopping online for a rental property had encountered a fake listing, and more than five million people lost money in a rental scam.

While a great rental at a low price is tempting, remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Take time to verify the details and see the property in person before committing to a rental.

Following are some tips for spotting and avoiding rental scams.

Keep an eye out for these red flags:

  • The rent is unusually low and/or the property has great amenities
  • The listing has many spelling or grammar errors
  • The owner asks for payment before you tour the property or sign a lease
  • The owner asks for your bank account number, SSN or a six-digit confirmation code
  • The owner’s email address does not seem like a person’s name (this may mean their email account was auto-generated, a preferred method for scammers as it is harder to trace)
  • An identical property is listed in other cities

Verify the details. Look for the property owner’s name, phone number and email address online. If possible, drive by the address to confirm the photos in the listing match the real-life property. Use a reverse image search tool like Google Images or TinEye to confirm if photos of the property have been used in other listings.

Search online for similar properties to get an idea of common rental prices and amenities in the area where you’re shopping.

Visit the property in person before paying any money, providing personal information or signing a lease. Be wary if the owner refuses to allow you to tour the property. If you can’t visit in person, ask someone you trust to visit on your behalf and confirm the property is as advertised.

Don’t pay a stranger with a cash transfer app. 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 okay to pay a landlord you trust with Venmo, Zelle or a similar app, but don’t use this payment method to secure an apartment or pay a deposit.

Know your rights as a renter. Read the lease carefully before signing and discuss any unclear points with the property owner. The lease should tell you how much your rent will be, for how long and what maintenance services your landlord provides.

Report scams. If you think you’re the victim of a rental scam, report it to BBB Scam Tracker.

Don O’Brien is the regional director for the Quincy Better Business Bureau. Contact him at dobrien@quincybbb.org or 217-209-3972.

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