Watch Out for Summer Rental Scams!

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The kids are out of school and the first day of summer is just around the corner.  Across the nation, families are planning their summer vacations and deciding exactly how they want to get away from it all.  Unfortunately, scammers are also making plans...plans on how to separate those families from their hard-earned money.

I warned about rental scams and shared a couple victim stories last summer, where scammers created fake ads on Craigslist and other websites that used pictures of real properties to draw victims in.  These scams are already starting to pop up in the news again--and it's not just the potential renter who finds themselves up in this scam, it's the often an unsuspecting homeowner too. Take for example, Stuart Brisgel who learned his property was listed "for rent" on Craigslist --when a pregnant woman interested in renting his home, showed up on his doorstep. Trouble is --he hadn't listed his home on Craigslist --and it wasn't for rent.   

When fake rental ads are posted, they often include a significant amount of real information about the properties shown in the ad's pictures.  This information sometimes comes from previous postings by the owner of the house when the property was actually up for rent; scammers save the pictures and basic information about the property so they can make their own ads seem more legitimate.

In many cases, the properties are listed as summer rentals or vacation properties and are advertised to individuals that are out of town and unable to view the property themselves.  If someone local to the property contacts the scammer about the ad he'll unfortunately be out of the state or in some cases out of the country; sometimes the excuse is that he's on vacation himself, or that he's had a death in the family or that he no longer lives in the area and manages the property remotely.  The scammer will provide an address that a rental deposit can be mailed to, after which he will usually disappear with your money.

There are a few things that you can do to avoid vacation rental scams.  When looking for a rental property, keep these points in mind:

  • Do your research.  If there is a property company listed in the ad, find out more about it online to make sure that it's legitimate.  Look for reviews if you can find any to see what other renters have to say as well.
  • Check out the property.  Visit it yourself or send a friend who lives in the area if possible, or use online maps that feature satellite photos such as Google Street View, Google Earth or Bing Maps to check and make sure that the property is actually located where the ad says it is and that it looks like it's supposed to.
  • Avoid listings that require you to send money via Western Union, MoneyGram or other wire transfer services.  These are almost always scams and legitimate rental agencies won't use these payment methods.
  • Pay in person if possible.  This allows you to meet the agent for the property and lets you ask additional questions about the property.  If you can meet the agent at the property in question that's even better.

If you fall victim to a scam don't feel alone. Authorities fear people too many people are losing millions of dollars from these types of scams, and find they are too embarrassed to report they had been duped. Don't feel embarrassed, it can happen to anyone. Do report fraud incidents to the appropriate local, state or federal law enforcement and regulatory authorities. Internet complaints can be easily reported to The Internet Crime Complaint Center. 

Stay informed and up-to-date on today's many scams and ID theft trends

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Hi Denise,

Thought your readers would be interested in a new service to help them from losing their deposits and stop rental fraud! With just a property address a renter or potential tenant can find out who owns the property to help with verifying the identity of the well as if the property is in risk or already has gone into foreclosure. Would love to hear your thoughts on our service!

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