With rent prices rising and the population growing, the Treasure Valley is becoming a prime target for scammers. Better Business Bureau's Veronica Craker says in 2017, BBB Scam Tracker received nearly 300 rental scam reports across the U.S.
"Since January 1st of this year we have already processed nearly 200 rental scams. And we still have six more months to go until the end of the year. While this problem is an issue across the country we have seen it here locally. In fact, this year we’ve had residents reach out to BBB because they were appalled at the rental scams they were running across while trying to find a place to live," Craker said.
Craker says the popularity of online real estate and vacation rental sites makes it easy for scammers to steal photos and descriptions of real places, and then post them as their own on online bulletin boards or classified sites. When they get an interested customer, scammers will have certain tricks to use so the entire transaction takes place online.
"They may target someone moving to the area who is trusting that the person they are speaking with, either on the phone or online, is who they say they are. The scammer will ask that a deposit and rent be paid before the renter can see the house in-person," Craker said.
"If they are working with a customer who is local they will make excuses for why they can’t meet in-person. They might even tell the renter to drive by the house, and if they stole listing information from an actual rental house it can be deceiving," Craker continued.
In either case, Craker says the scammer may create a false sense of urgency, telling the prospective renter that others are interested so immediate action is required. The renter puts down a security deposit or prepays a vacation rental, only to find out that the property is not available, or does not exist.
So how can you spot a fake rental posting?
- Start by searching online for the listings, or the scammer’s email address or phone number. If you find the same ad listed in other cities, that’s a 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. And don’t fall for the overseas landlord story: Scammers often claim to be out of the country and instruct targets to send money overseas.
- Consider hiring professional help. Some real estate agents may offer their services to renters, but keep in mind that not all real estate agents are realtors. Although both are licensed to practice real estate, realtors are also registered with the National Association of Realtors (NAR).
For more resources, visit www.bbb.org.