(COLUMBUS, Ohio)—Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine this week warned consumers to beware of home rental scams. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office has received over 40 reports about the scams in 2017, and summer is a peak time for moving and traveling.
In a typical rental scam, a con artist posts an ad online offering a house or apartment for rent. When interested consumers respond to the ad, the con artist tells them to send a deposit. Later, the consumers discover that the rental ad was phony and the con artist had no affiliation with the property. Reported losses have ranged from $250 to $5,000.
“Scam artists will say, ‘You send us the money, and we’ll send you the keys,’ but that’s a lie,” Attorney General DeWine said. “The truth is these con artists are offering properties they don’t own and hoping people will take the bait. We encourage people to be very careful. If someone’s asking you to wire a deposit for a property you’ve never seen in person, there’s a good chance it’s a scam.”
To make the scams seem believable, con artists often steal photos and property information from legitimate real estate listings then repost the information as rental property ads on Craigslist or other sites. The advertised rent is often low, and con artists generally tell people to wire a few hundred dollars (or more) to secure the rental or to prevent others from viewing the property.
Signs of the scam include:
- Requests for payment via wire transfer, money order, prepaid card, or gift card.
- Ads offering below-market rates on houses or apartments.
- Rental ads offering properties that are listed for sale on other websites.
- Landlords who offer to rent to you immediately, without checking your credit.
- Requests for you to wire money before you’ve seen the property.
- Landlords who claim they’re out of the country for business or missionary work.
To avoid scams:
- Be wary of requests for wire transfers, money orders, prepaid money cards, or gift cards. These are preferred payment methods for scammers, because once payment is provided, it is nearly impossible to recover.
- Be skeptical of ads offering below-market rates on houses or apartments. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- Check the county auditor’s website to determine who owns the property. Be aware that scam artists may pretend to be the true owner.
- Don’t send any money until you’ve seen a property in person and/or verified that the person communicating with you is truly who he or she claims to be.
- Be wary of landlords, property owners, or real estate professionals who say they had to leave the country quickly for business or missionary work. These kinds of claims are made often by scam artists.
- Be wary of landlords or property managers who offer to rent property to you without gathering any information from you, such as your credit score or a background check.
- Copy and paste an image from an online listing into a search engine to determine if it has appeared elsewhere online.
- Read and follow the scam prevention tips provided by any house or apartment-searching websites you use.
Real estate agents and sellers can help protect their listings by watermarking their photos and reporting fraudulent postings to the website where they appeared.
In addition to rental scams, consumers also should watch out for closing-cost scams that target home buyers or sellers. In these scams, a con artist typically poses as a title office or a real estate agent and emails the home buyer or seller with instructions to wire closing costs to a certain location. The instructions seem legitimate, but the message is bogus and any money sent will go to a scammer.
Consumers can learn more about scams or report potential scams to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 800-282-0515.