Are you a renter or a rental property owner? Are you planning a vacation and looking for a great deal? Are you aware that the rental listings you’re considering could be scams? Have you checked online advertising sites to ensure that someone isn’t using your original ad in a scam? Fraudsters often advertise rentals that don’t exist or aren’t available in order to coerce unsuspecting renters into sending money before they find out the truth.
As rental rates rise across the nation, so do rental scams. There are several versions of the rental scam, two of the most common include hijacked advertisements and phantom rentals. Scammers have been known to hijack a real rental or real estate listing by copying the real advertisement, modifying the contact information to reflect email accounts and phone numbers they have access to, and then posting the modified listing on other rental sites including Craigslist. Most times they also lower the price significantly in order to intrigue potential renters. In another version of the rental scam, the scammer generates a completely false advertisement for a rental that either doesn’t exist or isn’t for rent. The aim of both scams is to entice unsuspecting renters into sending money, usually through a money transmittal service, such as MoneyGram or Western Union, before they find out it’s a scam.
One of the most common tell-tale signs of a scam involves payment. Most often, the scammer will ask their victim to send money through a money transmittal service or a prepaid bank card such as Green Dot. Using these methods is the same as sending cash, once you send it, you have no way to get it back. In a new development, scam artists ask their victims to send money to any of the victim’s friends in order to prove the victim has the funds available. This is supposed to make the victim feel more comfortable during the transaction because the money is being sent to a person they know and trust. Then the fraudster asks for a copy of the receipt to prove the money was sent successfully. Armed with the information on the receipt, the fraudster is able to collect the money, no matter their location.
Other tell-tale signs of a scam are upfront payment and the other party being out of the country. In both cases, the victim is usually asked to send money to an individual they’ve never met in person, for a rental that they haven’t physically visited. Generally, the scammer states they can’t meet the victim in person because they are out of the country. They usually have a plan to get the keys to the rental into the victim’s hands, some have even gone so far as to create fake keys. Some fraudulent renters apply for real rentals hoping to dupe the owner. The scammer states they are out of the country and they have a sponsor company who is going to pick up the cost of the rental and other necessities. They send a cashier’s check for a large sum, over the amount of the security deposit and rent, and ask that the owner send the difference back to the potential renter or the sponsor. In almost all cases, the cashier’s check is fraudulent and the owner is on the hook for any amount of money they send to the scammer.
Consumers who believe they have fallen victim to a scam or who would like to report fraudulent activity may do so at www.coloradoattorneygeneral.gov/complaint. For additional information please call our office at 800-222-4444.