Rental fraud pervasive among property listings, Better Business Bureau Study shows

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A Better Business Bureau (BBB) study has found that fraud is common in the online rental home and vacation rental market.

The study found 43% of online shoppers encountered a fake listing and more than 5 million consumers incurred financial loss because of the scams.

According to the study, rental scams most commonly take the form of fraudsters copying the photo and description of a property, posting it online with their own contact information and trying to get a deposit and first month’s rent from the victim.

The fraudster may communicate only by email or text message and may claim to be out of the country and unavailable to show the property. Once the victim sends money, the fraudster disappears. 

In less common types of fraud, victims may be enticed to buy an online directory of homes supposedly for rent, or they may be tricked into signing up for credit monitoring that comes with recurring monthly charges.

“While an advertised rental that meets your needs at a great price might be tempting, it just may be a scam,”said Melanie Duquesnel, BBB President & CEO “Consumers shouldn’t rush into paying upfront fees for renting housing sight-unseen. Instead, take time to verify the details of listings.”

BBB Scam Tracker has received more than 1,300 reports of rental fraud from 2016 to 2019, while the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) reports more than $37 million from January 1, 2019, through October 20, 2019, in losses associated with complaints that mention the word “rent.”

In addition to warning consumers of red flags that may signal apartment or vacation rental scams, the report recommends:

·         Rental unit owners should watermark photos used for rental postings, which will make it more difficult for scammers to copy photos of other properties posted online. 

·         Website platforms that list houses, apartments and vacation properties should make extra effort to screen for bogus listings, and they should explore ways to allow consumers to easily report scam listings.

·         Police should encourage victims to report not only to the rental platform, but also to the FTC, BBB, IC3, or in Canada, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

What to do if you are the victim of a rental scam:

·         File a report with local police.

·         Go to BBB.org to view a business’ BBB Business Profile, including complaints and reviews, or to file a complaint or report a scam on Scam Tracker.

·         Contact the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint or by calling 877-FTC-HELP.

·         File a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

·         For incidents in Canada, contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. Call toll free from the US at 1-888-495-8501.

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