A victim tells her story
Lenny, a 27-year-old technician from northern California, was looking to move to San Francisco last August. An ad on Craigslist caught his eye, so he contacted the property manager who gave him more information and a link to the company’s website. Everything seemed legitimate.
Because housing in San Francisco is tight, Lenny (who asked us not to use his last name) agreed to pay a deposit to keep the apartment until he could see it this weekend. .
The company sent him a signed lease and made him this offer: Pay half a month’s rent and a security deposit up front – thousands of dollars – and get 10% off your rent for 12 month. It seemed like a good deal, so the money was sent and a tour date was set.
The day before the tour date, Lenny received an email telling him the company needed to reschedule. A week later, in a second email, the company said the apartment was taken off the market.
It was the last time he heard from the company. His deposit – $ 2,500 – was not refunded.
After the deal broke down, Lenny realized that the signed lease that seemed legitimate was not. The phone number was wrong and the building permit had expired.
“You try to move fast… to make things happen for your family, and so you go around red flag after red flag after red flag,” Lenny told NBC News BETTER. “But the onus was on me not to let that happen.”
The owners are powerless to stop the scam
NBC News BETTER spoke to the woman who owned the apartment building that Lenny thought he was going to move into. Marguerite (who asked that we not use her last name) told us that this was not the first time that criminals had hijacked her rental listings.
Once a young couple showed up to see an apartment listed in a fake ad and they were able to see the fake ad.
“There were pictures of my unit and it was mainly my words with the price and a few other things that changed,” Marguerite said.
He said the unit could be booked before the open house by paying several months rent in advance. Because the price was so low, about half the market rate, the couple decided to visit the property before doing anything. Fortunately, they did.
“It’s a dirty business,” said Marguerite. “The crooks affect my character and my reputation. They’re using my property as bait in their fraud, and I don’t know how you stop it.
How to protect yourself
The FTC has a step by step checklist how to avoid rental scams. Here are some red flags to watch out for:
- Ridiculously low price: If the rent is much lower than the market rate, especially in a hot market, this is a warning sign.
- Money in advance: A security deposit or the first month’s rent is required before signing the lease.
- You cannot see the place: If you or someone you trust cannot meet the owner or agent in person and see the house or apartment, keep looking.
- You are told to wire money: The FTC calls this “the surest sign of a scam.” There is never a good reason to wire money to pay a security deposit, administration fees, first month’s rent, or vacation rental fees. This is true even if you are first sent a contract. Wiring money it’s like sending money – once it’s gone, there’s no way to get it back.
It is also a good idea to research the ad and the rental company. If you find the same ad under a different name, that’s a clue that it may be a scam, the FTC warns.
For those who are considering renting a private house for a getaway, the Motley Fool has tips on how to avoid getting burned.
If you have been the victim of a rental scam, file a report with your local police department and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, the FBI Internet Crime Complaints Center (IC3) and the BBB’s scam tracker.