Los Angeles (CBS News) — Most renters find a home online, but con artists are using the technology to rip people off.
One scam victim didn’t want to reveal her identity, but said she spotted an ad on Craigslist and reached out to the person claiming to be the landlord. All of their communication was through email and over the phone. The victim paid the deposit and first month’s rent without a face-to-face meeting. The home was for rent, but the ad she saw was a fake. She sent her money to a con artist – and lost $2,500 and a place to live.
Steve Baker, a Better Business Bureau International Investigations Specialist said, “It is a real problem. Anybody looking for an apartment or house to rent needs to be really really careful and make sure they’re not being ripped off.”
Baker said complaints about rental scams jumped 49% in one year. Scammers are often copying legitimate rental ads and then listing the properties for a lower price on Craigslist and Facebook. The problem is so common, some homes have signs on the door warning of potential fraud.
“We found five million people in the United State have been victims of some sort of rental scam,” said Baker. Renters between the ages of 18 and 29 are the most likely to lose money in these scams.
Los Angeles is the city with the most scam victims, but the problem is happening in communities big and small, nationwide. According to the Better Business Bureau, red flags that a rental listing isn’t legitimate include:
- The person claiming to be the owner or property manager wants payment through Western Union, MoneyGram, or a gift card
- The rent is well below market rates
- You can’t see the unit in person because the owner is out of town.
Baker said, “You need to do a little research before you send away thousands of dollars on some sort of rental scam.”