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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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BBB Tip of the Week: Watch for property rental scams

By Tyler Russell BBB Northwest and Pacific

A tight housing market with low vacancy rates and rising rental costs means more tenants may be looking for a new address this fall. Rental scammers hoping to capitalize on those conditions have already taken notice.

Better Business Bureau Northwest and Pacific is warning prospective renters of con artists using real estate websites to swindle home hunters out of thousands of dollars.

More than 200 people already have reported being victimized by rental scams so far in 2020, and their combined losses total upwards of $107,000.

The scam operates by stealing photos and property descriptions from legitimate listings and then relisting those homes or apartments as available for rent. Interested tenants are asked to pay application fees up front after being given a reason why the property manager can’t show the property in person.

The key to making these scams work is to create a false sense of urgency. The scammer stresses that because so many other renters are interested in the property, a security deposit and/or first month’s rent is required to reserve the home in your name.

Recently, scammers have even been posing as interested renters to retrieve access codes for move-in ready homes and other legitimate places available to lease. They then pass those codes along to victims so they can see the property in person. But when it’s time for keys on move-in day, victims are left high and dry.

Local real estate agents have also alerted BBB that their “For Sale” listings have been fraudulently posted online as available for rent. Those agents are joined by property management companies in the region that have seen rental scams become a growing problem during the past couple of years.

Many victims of rental scams don’t realize what is happening until after they have wired hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of dollars in deposits – money that can never be recouped.

Better Business Bureau tips to avoid becoming a victim:

Watch out for deals that are too good. Scammers lure you in by promising low rents, extra amenities and a great location. If the price seems much better than what’s offered elsewhere, it may be a scam.

Search online for similar properties. Do a quick search for the listing, scammer’s email address or phone number. Run a reverse Google image search. If you find the same ad listed in other cities, that’s a huge red flag.

See 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 go to confirm it is what was advertised.

Consider professional help. Contact local property management companies directly to see what they have available, as opposed to relying on third-party sites. You can also go through a real estate agent that offers their services to renters.

Better Business Bureau did an investigative study and you can find it at bbb.org/rentalscams.

To find out more about businesses you can trust, head to bbb.org. More information about keeping your business safe during these trying times is available at trust.bbb.org.

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