BBB: Avoid getting scammed when looking to rent

From press release

With fewer people buying homes in the current market and more people renting these days, it is no surprise scammers are targeting renters more frequently. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are urging consumers to be wary when looking through classified ad listings online.

Here’s how it works…

Scammers search Web sites listing legitimate properties for sale. They take the information in those ads and post it with their own e-mail address, under the housing rentals category. Potential victims who see these ads and contact the “homeowner” via e-mail may receive a response from the “homeowner” explaining he or she had to leave the U.S. quickly because of some missionary or contract work in Africa. The potential renters are then asked to wire two months of rent. When victims arrive at the property on the agreed-upon date, they find the house or apartment is not for rent, and its true owners know nothing about your agreement.

“This is not a new scam, just a variation of an old one,” said Dennis Horton, director of the Rockford Regional Office of the BBB serving Chicago and northern Illinois. “These scammers might also ask potential renters to fill out credit applications asking for personal information like credit history, Social Security numbers, and work history, also becoming victims of identity theft. It can be a double whammy of losing a rent down payment and having your financial information stolen.”

The BBB offers the following advice about how to avoid being victimized when looking to rent a home or apartment:

Only deal with landlords who are local, and visit the location you are interested in renting before paying any money or signing any contracts;

Be suspicious if you’re asked to only use a wire transfer service for rental payments;

Beware of e-mail correspondence from a potential “landlord” that’s written in poor or broken English;

Research the average rental rates in the area, and be suspicious if the rate is significantly lower;

Visit as many homes or apartments as you can to have a better idea of what your money buys. It is also important to factor in the cost of living in the area as well;

Don’t give out personal information, like Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers during a rental search;

If a rental property deal sounds too good to be true, then it probably is;

Check the record of  any real estate management company involved with the listing with the BBB or use an apartment finding and rental service accredited with the BBB  for free by checking

From the September 2-8, 2009 issue

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