BBB: look out for rental scams

Posted at 8:11 AM, Aug 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-11 10:19:19-04

BOISE, Idaho — Rental vacancy is down as rent continues to increase across the Treasure Valley. It comes as a federal eviction moratorium ends, meaning more people are likely looking for a new place to rent. All of that combined makes it a prime time for scammers.

The Better Business Bureau says so far in 2020, the Bureau's Scam Tracker has seen hundreds of reports of rental scams, resulting in more than $100,000 lost. While this is an issue across the country, it's also happening locally. Boise Police are also reporting rental scams--particularly concerning as college students move to town.

Several real estate agents in the area have also alerted BBB about their properties for sale being fraudulently listed online as available to rent. BBB says the popularity of online real estate and vacation rental sites has made it easy for scammers to steal photos and descriptions of real homes, and then post them as their own on online rental sites like Craigslist, Zillow and Facebook Marketplace.

When they get an interested customer, scammers will request an application fee. They may even allow you to look at the property. In fact, a local homebuilder has reported that scammers were using their move-in ready homes, giving consumers access codes to look at the house, as a part of their scam.

They then ask for a deposit and first month’s rent. Often, they ask for this via digital payment, like Venmo or Cash App, totaling several hundred dollars. With demand high and rental inventory low, many house hunters are quick to pay up to secure the rental in their name. Once it's time to get the keys, the landlord is nowhere to be found and unable to be contacted. The property is usually occupied, not for rent or flat out does not exist.

BBB says there are ways to spot a fake. First, run a google image search. Check to see if the same photos and description are being used in listing in other cities, that’s a huge red flag.

If possible, see the property in person. If you can’t visit it yourself, ask someone you trust to go and confirm that it is what was advertised. Don’t fall for the overseas landlord story--scammers often claim to be out of the country and instruct targets to send money overseas.

Finally, consider getting professional help. Contact local property management companies directly to see what they have available as opposed to relying on third-party sites. You can also go through a real estate agent that offers their services to renters.

For more on rental scams, click here. You can find other tips from BBB here.