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From the Better Business Bureau: Rental Listing Scams
By Guest Columnist Kelvin Collins

MACON - Are you moving, going on a well-deserved vacation, or maybe your son or daughter just got accepted to college and you are trying to find them the perfect rental close to campus. Then you spot it:

“A real steal! 1,400 sq. ft. home for rent, all utilities included - for just $500 a month!”

Steal is the right word, because this advertisement is nothing more than a scam. BBB warns of rental scams listing fraudulent ads on popular marketplace websites. Scammers are copying legitimate posts advertising properties in the area, and then re-listing the properties as “for rent” with different contact information. These are known as Hijacked Ads and may even use the name of the “real” person who originally posted it. Other scammers use what are referred to as Phantom Rentals, the listings do not even exist, but are designed to lure you in, their goal, take your money before you have time to fully check them out.

One consumer told BBB she was told by the property owner that she could move in at once, with no credit check required. All she had to do was send the security deposit via wire transfer and the house keys would be mailed back. The phony owner said they were out of town and couldn’t meet to show the home, and decided to rent because “realtors were inflating the prices”. Other consumers report actually going to the property and meeting the so-called owners in person and paying the security deposit in cash, only to find out they handed their hard-earned money over to a scammer. We have even had consumers show up to look at a house for rent, only to find the real owners still living there with no intentions of selling or renting their home.

Thankfully many consumers contact the BBB first and are able to learn the warning signs of such scams before they become victims.

Never pay a rental without first inspecting the property fully, if the landlord requires payment via wire transfer, walk away immediately. Legitimate realty agencies and property owners will never request payment in this manner or rent to someone sight unseen.

BBB advises consumers to watch for these red flags of a rental scam.

- Requests that you send a check or money order or wire funds through MoneyGram, Green Dot MoneyPak or Western Union.
- Typos, grammatical errors and improper wording or context during discussion or in the ad.
- When selling or buying items online, requests for your bank account number, Social Security number or a code sent to your cell phone via text message or phone call are all signs of a potential scam.
- The e-mail used by the person who posted the listing does not sound like a person’s name. That may be an indicator that it is an auto-generated e-mail account, preferred because they are difficult to trace.
- The “seller” isn’t willing to reveal the house’s address until you reply to their ad, perhaps by going to a website and filling out a “free credit report”. That report’s sole purpose is to steal your identity.
- You cannot inspect the property prior to making a decision.
- The rent is much lower than similar properties in the area.
- The owner is conveniently located out of state or in another country.

Remember to do your research; BBB suggests you carefully research the owner and the home. Look for the property owner's name, phone number, and email address online. Ask to inspect the property and review the lease before making any decisions. Check local property records to determine if the person is the actual owner of the property. You can generally find this information by contacting the Tax Assessor's office in that area.

For more tips you can trust, visit BBB/org.

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Kelvin Collins is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia & the CSRA, Inc. serving 41 counties in Central Georgia and the Central Savannah River Area (CSRA). This tips column is provided through the local BBB and the Council of Better Business Bureaus. Questions or complaints about a specific company or charity should be referred directly to the BBB at Phone: 1-800-763-4222, Web site: www.BBB.org or E-mail: info@centralgeorgia.bbb.org or info@csra.bbb.org.

Submitted 4.28.17
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