Online scams targeting renters

When Lynnea Hamatake needed to locate a house to rent, she did what many people might do — peruse online ads for available properties. She felt pretty excited when she saw a listing for a place in West Jordan priced well below other comparable rentals, and emailed the contact listed in the ad.

After a more careful review of the online listing, she noticed some things that “raised red flags.”

“(It) said, ‘I have the keys with me … I won’t be able to get them to you until you send me the deposit, then I’ll mail you the keys,’” Hamatake said. “I just thought, ‘Oh boy, that does not sound right.’”

She contacted a Realtor connected to the home, who told her that the listing was not correct.

“I haven’t been in the rental market for a long time,” Hamatake said. “This was my first experience … very shocking!”

She said the Realtor was helpful in contacting local authorities and explained that such scams are becoming more commonplace.

Here’s how it works: Fraudsters target occupied or unoccupied listings, create an ad and urge the potential renter to avoid calling the agent. Sometimes they’ll invite a potential target to drive by the home and see if they like it. Then the “mail-me-a-portion-of-the-deposit pitch ensues, with the promise of a key.

Hamatake advises potential renters to beware.

“Never give money without meeting in person at the property,” she said. “If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”

How to spot a fraudulent ad,
Some of the common elements found in these fake rental ads were:

• Poorly written ads … as if someone used a translation program to generate the language in the ad.

• The property could not be inspected or shown in person because the “landlord” in charge of renting the property claims to be in another state or country for work or is serving a mission.

• The telephone numbers listed in the ads or emails are for out of state numbers, or are international numbers. Also, the names used in the ads have used prior property owners as the contact person.

• The person claiming to have authority to rent the property requests a deposit via wire transfer.

Realtor Larry Larsen of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage said this kind of scam has occurred recently on this and other properties at his office.

“The prudent thing to do is call the Realtor (to verify) the listing,” he said.

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