Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Beware of rental scam

Our Fraud Unit is starting to see more of a disturbing scam that is bilking renters and property owners alike, and we want the public to be aware of it so you can ensure your rental agreements are legitimate.

The scam starts with legitimate property owners posting a for-rent listing on real estate web sites or community bulletin board-type sites. Bad guys take the information from the ad and then repost it with their own contact information. Potential tenants end up contacting the bad guys instead of the real property owners. The bad guys arrange for the victims to actually move into the home and collect a deposit and rent from them. When the real landlord shows up to check on property they assume is vacant, they are surprised to find someone living there. The victims tell the legitimate landlord that they signed a contract and paid rent by cash or check to the individual who leased them the property originally. When the property owner contacts the police to find the fake landlord, the bad guy is long gone – with the tenants’ money. So the real property owner is stuck with tenants who aren’t paying them any rent, and the tenants could face being evicted from their home through no fault of their own.

We’ve received reports of these fake landlords breaking windows to get into homes and changing locks so they can show them to potential tenants as if they were the real owners. Some victims have reported that they showed up at a rental house, and the scammer claimed to have forgotten the key and only showed them pictures of what the inside of the house was supposed to look like. Yet the victims still agreed to rent the property.

To avoid being scammed like this, our Fraud Unit offers the following tips:

* Deal only with reputable rental or real estate agencies.
* Sign any contracts at an office, not in the front yard of the rental residence.
* Don’t trust everything you see on the Internet. Have a healthy skepticism about deals that could be potential scams.
* Property owners should check on their properties regularly or hire someone to do so if they don’t live in the area.
* Report any suspicious behavior to the TIPS Hotline at 816-474-TIPS (8477).

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