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Close the Door on Rental Listing Scams

How to Identify Apartment, Timeshare and Vacation Rental Scams

Post Date:04/27/2016 9:00 AM

Moving to a new city? Planning a vacation? As you consider issues like size, cost and location of the rental, also consider  that the rental listing could be a scam. Scammers often advertise rentals that don’t exist or aren’t available to trick people into sending money before they find out the truth.

Hijacked Ads - Some scammers hijack a real rental or real estate listing by changing the email address or other contact information and placing the modified ad on another site. The altered ad may even use the name of the person who posted the original ad. In other cases, scammers have hijacked the email accounts of property owners on reputable vacation rental websites.

Phantom Rentals - Other rip-off artists make up listings for places that aren’t for rent or don’t exist and try to lure you in with the promise of low rent or great amenities. Their goal is to get your money before you find out.

Signs of a Scam

Being savvy when you are in search of a rental is well worth the effort. Here are some signs you may be dealing with a scam:

They tell you to wire money - This is the surest sign of a scam. There’s never a good reason to wire money to pay a security deposit, application fee, first month’s rent or vacation rental fee. That’s true even if they send you a contract first! Wiring money is the same as sending cash - once you send it, you have no way to get it back.

They want a security deposit or first month’s rent before you’ve met or signed a lease - It’s never a good idea to send money to someone you’ve never met in person 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 that it’s for rent, and that it is what was advertised. In addition to setting up a meeting, do a search on the owner and listing. If you find the same ad listed under a different name, that’s a clue it may be a scam.

They say they’re out of the country - They have a plan to get the keys into your hand which might involve a lawyer or  “agent” working on their behalf. Some scammers even create fake keys. Don’t send money overseas. If you can’t meet in person, see the apartment or sign a lease before you pay, keep looking. What if the rental itself is overseas? Paying with a credit card or through a reputable vacation rental website with its own payment system are your safest bets.

How to Report Scams

If you find yourself the target of a rental scam, file a report with the Santa Clara Police Department, to the Federal Trade Commission and the website where the ad was posted (e.g. Craigslist).

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