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Rental scams using COVID-19 now in the Treasure Valley

Rental scams using COVID-19 now in the Treasure Valley
Posted at 5:51 PM, May 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-21 19:51:29-04

MERIDIAN, Idaho — Rental scammers are targeting those searching for a residence in the Treasure Valley. The Meridian Police Department has received four reports just this week involving rental scams. Typically, scammers copy legitimate rental ads and post them on platforms such as Zumper or Letgo, posing as the owners.

Once the potential tenant wishes to move forward with the rental property, they are emailed an illegitimate lease agreement and instructed to make a remote payment for a deposit fee and rent. All of this communication is through email, phone calls and text messages. While this scam occurred prior to COVID-19, the virus is providing the con artists with a reasonable excuse to refuse in-person contact and only accept remote payment.

How to avoid rental fraud:

  • Do your research on fair market value. When the asking rental price seems too good to be true, it probably is. A property that is priced below the going market rate in Meridian should be an immediate red flag.
  • Meet the landlord in person. Landlords traditionally want to meet their potential tenants to show the property, answer any questions and instill trust in the upcoming lease agreement. Scammers usually say they are out of town and cannot meet, with the latest reply involving coronavirus concerns.
  • Visit the rental property in person. Don’t just trust online photos or virtual tours. Look up the address and visit the property in person to verify it is as advertised and what you are looking for.
  • Be cautious if there is no screening process. Most landlords and property management companies have set screening processes they follow to ensure quality tenants. If you are asked for funds prior to completing a background check, it is most likely a scam.
  • Avoid non-traditional payments. Many are familiar with wire scams, and the latest includes sending money through phone applications. Once this form of payment has been made, it’s next to impossible to get back. This type of request is a clear sign of a scam.

“The best way to avoid this type of scam is to meet the landlord and see the rental property in person before moving forward with any application or payment,” said Detective Lieutenant Leslie, “If you are looking to rent local and they won’t meet you in person, that’s definitely a red flag. Tenants should take extra steps to verify the legitimacy of owner.”

“While this isn’t a new scam, the coronavirus presents new and unique challenges for potential renters,” said Public Information Officer Stephany Galbreaith, “We encourage those looking for rental properties to view the property in person while taking healthy precautions. Wear a face covering, social distance, and wash your hands before and after the viewing. If you are at high risk, look to a friend or advocate to assist you in viewing the property.”

If you have been a victim of fraud contact the Meridian Police Department 208-846-7300 to file a report.