BBB is reminding renters to use caution when looking for rental property. In 2020, 7,593 complaints were filed through BBB against apartment complexes and real estate rentals with the majority of the issues revolving around their services, billing, and repairs. Likewise, as bogus ads for properties are common, it’s more important than ever for renters to make educated decisions before choosing an apartment or other rental property.
How do rental scams work? BBB Scam Tracker reports indicate that many con artists steal online rental listings – including the photos of the house or apartment and the property description – and create their own listings, which look legitimate but contain the scammer’s contact information instead of the property owner’s or rental agent’s. They may work out a deal with potential buyers or renters over the phone, insisting that because of an emergency or circumstances outside of their control, they are not able to meet in person or show the property. Instead, they’ll set up a drive-by of the property to view from the outside and then, send a contract by mail or email. The entire transaction is done virtually.
Once the contract is signed, they ask for a deposit and the first month’s rent. In return, they promise to mail the keys once the funds have cleared. Sadly, no key arrives. The phone and email addresses that worked before during the negotiation process is shut down and the cash is gone.
“While an advertised rental at a great price might be tempting,” Mechele Agbayani Mills, President and CEO of BBB Serving Central East Texas said. “Consumers shouldn’t rush into paying upfront fees for rentals sight-unseen. Instead, take time to verify the details of listings.”
BBB provides the following recommendations before putting down a deposit on a rental property:
Look out for too-good-to-be-true deals. If someone offers a great rental for an extremely low price, compare the same property in the same neighborhood and ask questions.
Double-check the “business address. If a website has a business address, search the address. If the address pops up on a map as a residential address, a vacant property, empty lot or overseas, chances are it’s probably not a legitimate business.
Confirm the identity of the landlord. A legitimate landlord won’t hesitate to show their ID and allow a photo to be taken. Confirm the real property owner by checking county registers.
See the property in person. Never sign a lease or make a deposit without seeing the property in person first.
Never pay via unconventional methods. Once a “deposit” is sent via wire transfer, pre-paid credit card, gift card or another uncommon method of payment, the money is gone with very little chance of getting it back.
Watch out for red flags. If a property has a “for sale” sign, but the “landlord” wants to rent, use caution. It’s also suspicious to find a broken lockbox. Check local rental and sales listings. See if the property is on there before going to an open house.
Use the services of a reputable rental agency. Find agents you can trust on BBB.org.
To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, please call BBB at 903-581-5704 or use BBB ScamTracker.
About BBB: BBB is a nonprofit, business-supported organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Most BBB services to consumers are free of charge. BBB provides objective advice, free BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.3 million companies, 11,000 charity reviews, dispute resolution services, alerts and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. Visit bbb.org for more information. There are over 100 local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including BBB Serving Central East Texas, which was founded in 1985 and serves 19 counties.