ARLINGTON, VA — Finding a new place to live is stressful! Scammers know that people in the middle of a move don’t always have the time to do the necessary research. Avoid scams by paying attention to these latest tips.
How does this scam work
You respond to an online rental ad that advertises a nice house, low rent and great amenities. It seems legit; Scammers often use real photos and descriptions stolen from other websites. The ‘owner’ responds to your message saying they can’t show ownership. In the latest BBB Scam Tracker reports, scammers claim to be out of town for work or in the hospital with a health emergency.
The scammer will then create a false sense of urgency, telling you that others are interested, so you need to act immediately. They will ask for a security deposit and/or the first month’s rent to reserve the property. The scammer may claim that you can view the property through a rental agent – only after paying the deposit. In some versions, the “landlord” will ask potential tenants to fill out an application form, which asks for personal details like a social security number.
One tenant reported this experience: “I saw a house for rent on Facebook and contacted… They sent me an application link and asked for $50 per adult via CashApp. I sent $100 for 2 adults and received a confirmation link that they had received the request. After that, they requested that $400 be sent to them to hold the property. I declined as I had not met them in person or seen the house.
No matter the details, once you send the money, the result is the same. The “owner” will stop responding to messages and disappear. Tenants have reported to BBB Scam Tracker losing thousands after paying fees to own an apartment, make a deposit and pay the first month’s rent.
How to avoid rental scams:
• Beware of offers that are too advantageous. Scammers lure you by promising low rents, extra amenities, and a great location. If the price seems much better than elsewhere, it may be a scam.
• Search online for similar properties. Do a quick search of the scammer’s list, email address or phone number. If you find the same ad listed in other cities, that’s a huge red flag.
• View the property in person. Don’t send money to someone you’ve never met for an apartment you haven’t seen. If you can’t visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust to confirm that it is what was advertised.
• Don’t pay a stranger with money transfer apps. Many scammers are now asking for payments via peer-to-peer apps instead of direct funds or prepaid debit/gift cards. Only use these apps with people you know. You can pay a landlord you trust with Venmo, Zelle, or another P2P app, but don’t use this payment method to secure an apartment or pay a deposit.
For more information
Read tips and scam alerts on our moving page. For additional advice, see BBB Scam Alert: Avoid Peer-to-Peer Payment Scams on Paypal, Zelle, Venmo, and More.
If you spotted a scam (whether or not you lost money), report it to BBB Scam Tracker. Your report can help others avoid being scammed. Learn how to spot a scam BBB.org/SpotAScam.