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Rental Scams Explode in a Tight Housing Market

Desperation helps scammers. A strong need for affordable housing entices victims to lower their defenses, and some will send money to landlords they’ve never met.

NEW YORK – With homes and apartments so tough to find this year, many renters are desperate to find anything. That’s how one woman ended falling victim to a rental scam.

Mariah Dates had no luck finding a rental home until a cute two-bedroom house popped up on Facebook Marketplace for just $700 a month.

“I emailed the rental agent, and she emailed me back with interior pictures of the house and everything,” Dates said.

Thrilled, Dates drove by the house to make sure her great find was real. “It’s a real house,” she said. “You can go see it.”

But she couldn’t go inside. The landlord claimed she was currently out of state.

So Dates immediately filled out an application, then sent a deposit and two months’ rent (which the landlord required ) via the Zelle app.

She never heard back. “I ended up sending the money for the deposit and the rent but never got the keys,” she said.

No keys showed up via FedEx, as it had been promised, and Dates then found herself ghosted, with no text response from the landlord ever again.

Another victim of the rental scam

It turns out the listing was fake, and Dates was the latest victim of the home rental scam.

The house and the photos were real but were stolen from a recent “for sale” listing of the home, available for anyone to see on Zillow or Realtor.com. It was never for rent, and the real selling agent did not know about any rental offer on it.

The so-called “rental agent” turned out to be a hacked Facebook page, where someone used an innocent person’s profile to post the home on Facebook Marketplace.

In total, Dates was out a deposit, plus two full months’ rent. “It all comes out to $2,145 that I lost,” she said.

We’ve sent her information to her bank, in the chance they can help. In most cases, they can’t, however, because the money was sent via cash and is untraceable (in this case, to a burner cell phone number).

The rental scam is becoming so common this year because of the red hot housing market. With high home prices, so many people are desperate to rent homes, it makes them easy prey for scammers.

Warning signs of a scam

The FTC says to be suspicious of rental listings if:

  • The landlord wants a deposit before you have met.
  • The landlord is out of town and cannot meet you personally.
  • You can’t go inside the home or apartment.
  • They ask for a deposit via Venmo, Zelle, Google Play, iTunes, or other gift cards.

Finally, in this tight housing market, be suspicious of any rental that sounds too cheap, so you don’t waste your money.

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