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Consumer Alert: Look Out for Fake Rental Classifieds

Both renters and landlords see Internet advertising as a convenient and inexpensive way to conduct business, but, unfortunately, so do con artists.
LITTLE ROCK, AR (News release) – Consumers who are relocating or who are looking for a short-term getaway may turn to Internet rental listings to find just the right home to meet their needs. Both renters and landlords see Internet advertising as a convenient and inexpensive way to conduct business, but, unfortunately, so do con artists.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel’s Consumer Protection Division has received several complaints in recent months about scammers posting fake rental classifieds on Internet advertising sites. McDaniel issued this consumer alert today to let Arkansas consumers know about the scam.

Most recently, in Northwest Arkansas, scammers have stolen photographs from legitimate real estate ads and created false advertisements to make it appear that the homes are for rent. The con artists usually ask interested renters to send money upfront as a deposit for a rental. Consumers who are victims of the scheme rarely get their money back and never get into the home they wanted.

“Most renters wouldn't suspect that real-estate ads are being hijacked for illegal purposes, but this is an increasingly common practice across the country,” McDaniel said. “I would advise all consumers never to provide money sight unseen for a rental home. Check it out personally or ask a friend or family member nearby to set up an appointment to see the home. It’s always better to proceed cautiously, especially if someone is pressuring you to send money to pay for a home you've never seen.”

According to the Federal Trade Commission, scammers may change the email address or contact information for a real rental or real estate listing, then place the modified ad on another website. In some cases, con artists have stolen the email accounts of property owners on reputable vacation websites.

Some scammers may make up a false listing for places that aren't for rent or don’t exist, and may promise a great rental rate, top-notch amenities or special deal in order to con a consumer into sending money.

To help consumers, there are some tell-tale signs of this scam. McDaniel offered these tips on what to watch out for:

  • Never wire money. The FTC says a request to wire money is the surest sign of an Internet rental scam. It is never necessary to wire money, or send money through a prepaid debit card, for an application fee, deposit, first month’s rent, or vacation rental fee. Wiring money or loading funds on a prepaid debit card is the same as sending cash. Beware of below-market rate rental offers. Understandably, consumers will be tempted to act quickly to take advantage of a “too good to be true” deal. Con artists depend on that.

  • Do not provide a security deposit or first month’s rent before meeting the landlord or signing a lease. Consumers should always visit the apartment or house they are about to rent and meet the property owner before signing a lease. Consumers who are unable to do so should ask someone they trust to visit the property and confirm it’s for rent.

  • Use caution if a property owner claims to be outside of the United States. Some out-of-state con artists have told consumers that a lawyer or “agent” will be working on their behalf, but consumers shouldn't send money overseas without first looking at the rental unit or signing a legitimate lease before paying. If the rental unit is overseas, then paying with credit card or through a reputable vacation rental website is appropriate.

For more information about this or other consumer-related issues, visit the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division website, or call (800) 482-8982.

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