Be Mindful of Rental Fraud
Summer is coming up fast, and for many people that means travel. However, you need to be aware that many scammers use Internet searches for “hotel rooms” or “rental homes” as a way to rip you off. When arranging for accommodations, it is very important that you double check everything to keep yourself safe.
Fraudsters often use the photos and descriptions of real locations, copying that information from real estate ads or rental websites, but they drop the price to make it sound like a wonderful deal. Craigslist is a noteworthy place where these false clone ads appear, but fraudsters also run them in newspapers, online chat boards or make their own websites. The bargain prices lure you in, you make contact, and a deal is struck. The fraudster then has you pay the first month’s rent and any other fees they can talk you into before they vanish. The Internet makes it is very easy for a criminal to trick you into thinking you’re reserving a hotel room or dealing with the homeowner directly, but there are some things you need to know.
How to Avoid a Scam:
Try to have a local friend check out the location you are looking to rent. If that isn’t possible, run an online search of the address in question and any names, emails or phone numbers that you have from the supposed agent or landlord you are in contact with. If you find results that indicate the property is for sale rather than rent or don’t find the address or it matches another house or business, then stop contact immediately. Also, keep your eyes open for postings by other people who may have already fallen victim to the fraudster and are trying to warn you off.
Do homework on the location itself by copying large sections of the description given in the ad into a search engine. This will help you find out if the description has been copied from somewhere else online. If you find the same description on a home that is for sale, you should assume the rental offer is a fraud.
Don’t conduct your business only by email. It is impersonal and is a preferred method of communication by fraudsters. You need to get a phone number and run an online search on it to see if you can find scammer warnings connected with it. If you can’t get someone on the phone, take that as a red flag and walk away.
Always verify ownership by asking for proof of ownership and identity. You can use this information to cross-check with public records. If you are dealing with someone who says they are an agent, then ask for verification that they have the right to sign a lease on behalf of the owner. Again, get the information of the owner and confirm the arrangement with them.
Don’t agree to a credit check until you have verified that the property is really for rent and have checked that the owners are legitimate. Remember that while some fraudsters are only interested in grabbing your money, others will be happy to use a credit report as a way to gather information about you. That information can be used to steal your identity in the future.
Be careful how you pay. Fraudsters love cash or any other method that doesn’t leave a trail such as wire transfers or prepaid debit cards. Instead, use methods that give you more protection like credit cards or checks. Remember that a receipt from a fraudster is worthless, but credit card transactions or checks will help authorities trace the fraudster. If someone tries to insist on cash or wire transfers, you need to walk away.
Be careful about using links for hotels or “deals” from social media to make your hotel reservations. These can take you a fake website that scammers use to get your information and potentially a payment from you. Instead, use search engines or official web addresses to access a hotel’s website. Also, make sure before contacting a call center that you verify their phone number on the hotel’s official website.
Remember that if something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Fraudsters bank on these great deals to get victims to act quickly before “the deal is gone.” They rely on you acting before you can think things through and find the flaws in their con. Take the time needed when arranging for your rental to check everything out. It will pay off in the end.