BBB Warns Of Online Rental Scams

With the school year winding down, many students are planning on moving out of college dorms or their parents’ homes to find apartments or rental homes for the summer and beyond. Better Business Bureau ® of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) reminds all consumers of the importance of doing their research to ensure online listings for rental properties are legitimate and to avoid falling victim to scams.

“Many people start their search for rental properties online, which is fine so long as a certain amount of skepticism is employed,” said Susan Adams Loyd, President and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “Watch out for ads with rent listed well below market price or situations where people are only willing to communicate via email or text message.”

In an effort to help people avoid rental scams, Better Business Bureau has compiled some helpful information and tips for those who are beginning their search for rental properties. Renters should be wary if:

  • The deal sounds too good to be true. Scammers will often list a rental for a very low price to lure in victims. Find out how comparable listings are priced, and if the rental comes in suspiciously low, walk away.
  • The landlord is located elsewhere and prefers to communicate solely via email. Scammers might say they have just been relocated outside the country for a job or they’re overseas performing missionary work. Don’t believe it!
  • An online listing has grammatical or spelling errors – often a sign the ad may have been created by overseas scammers unfamiliar with the nuances of the English language.
  • You’re asked to wire money through wire transfer services such as Western Union or MoneyGram, or if you’re told the deposit or rent needs to be paid with a Green Dot MoneyPak card. Any money sent via these means is extremely difficult to trace, and there is little chance if any of getting your money back.
  • The rental requires a security deposit or first month payment without meeting the landlord, inspecting the property or signing a lease. It’s never a good idea to send money to someone you’ve never met in person for a property you haven’t seen. If you can’t visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust to go and confirm that it’s actually for rent – and make sure they have access to the property to inspect its condition – inside and out.

In addition to setting up an onsite visit, do a Google image search on the photo or photos in the ad. If you find another ad using the same pictures, that’s a sign that something is likely amiss. Scammers can and do steal images from legitimate property listings and create their own ads, which they post on sites like craigslist.

For free Business Profiles, access to customer reviews and the latest marketplace news, visit bbb.org.