A reader: I lost my job 6 months ago and I had to move in with my sister. I’m back on my feet again and I’m ready to move out on my own again. I want to rent a house. I found a 3 bedroom and 2 bath rental home priced for $1,300 per month online. The online listing showed pictures of the inside and outside of the home, and had a full description of the property. The owner said that I could secure the place by sending $1,300 to cover the security deposit, but that I needed to move quickly since many people were interested. I was told that I would be guaranteed the keys to the place, after I wired the money or mailed it to the “owner.” After repeated attempts to contact the “owner,” I still have not received the keys and it’s been over a week. Is there anything that I can do to get my money back?
Action Line: Scammers prey on people every day and perpetrate their crimes in a variety of different ways. This scam has been around for many years and continues to find victims.
In a rental scam scammers sometimes look for rental properties online and hijack an actual listing of a property that is for rent. Scammers use the photos and information of the property to create fraudulent posts often using Craigslist, Zillow, Trulia, among others. If you suspect that a post may be part of a scam, the very first thing you should do it report it to the website on which it is posted.
There are services offered including financial assistance and compensation that help individuals who have been victimized by crime. There is no guarantee that you will get your money back, but for more information about victim assistance, you may go to the Office for Victims of Crime by calling (916) 845-8301 or visit their website at www.ovc.gov/
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In some cases scammers obtain enough information such as Social Security, bank account, or driver’s license numbers to steal the victims’ identities. Usually this information is obtained through fraudulent paperwork that scammers urge the victims to submit. If you feel your personal information may have been jeopardized visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft or call 1 (877) 438-4338.
Protect yourself and others in your community by reporting the scam. Report the scam to your local law enforcement, the Better Business Bureau, and the Federal Trade Commission.
To lower your chances of falling victim to fraud follow these tips:
• Be cautious of ads that sound too good to be true. Some examples include very low rent compared to other homes in the neighborhood and the landlord paying for everything including the utilities and lawn care service.
• Be cautious of owners who tell you they are out of the state or country.
• Never use Western Union, MoneyGram, Green Dot or any other money transfer service to pay a security deposit, application fee, or first month’s rent.
• Always meet the owner and visit an apartment or house in person before you make a payment. If for some reason you cannot visit the apartment or house ask someone you trust to visit the property and confirm it’s for rent.