In the past year, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office has received more than a dozen complaints about potential rental scams. Consumers who lose money report losses ranging from $500 to $5,500.
Anyone who goes online to find an apartment or a house should watch for scams. If you’re asked to wire a deposit before you’ve even seen the property or met the landlord, it’s likely a scam. You also should check with your county auditor to see who truly owns the property before making any payments.
In a typical rental scam, a con artist steals information from a legitimate real estate listing and reposts it as a place for rent on Craigslist or another website. Using information pulled from the legitimate listing, the scammer will list the property’s address and photos of the place.
The advertised rent is often low, and the potential renter is told to send a few hundred dollars (or more) to secure the rental. Typically the payment must be sent via wire transfer or prepaid money card. Once the money is sent, it is nearly impossible to track or to recover.
To avoid rental scams, consumers should keep the following in mind:
• Be skeptical of ads offering below-market rates on houses or apartments. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
• Search your county auditor’s website for a record of who owns the property. Be aware that scam artists may pretend to be the true owner.
• Don’t trust potential “landlords” or property owners who say they had to leave the country quickly for business or missionary work. Scam artists often make these claims.
• Don’t send money until you’ve had a face-to-face transaction, including actually viewing the property. Also talk to neighbors to get a better understanding of the property and the neighborhood before making any payments.
• Beware of requests for wire transfers or prepaid money cards as payment methods. These are preferred methods for scammers, because once the money is sent it is nearly impossible to recover.
• Copy and paste an image from an online listing into a search engine to determine if it has appeared elsewhere online.
• If available, read and follow the scam prevention tips provided by any house or apartment-searching websites you use.
• Real estate agents and sellers can help protect themselves and their listings by following these tips:
• Consider not listing the complete address of the property online.
• Watermark your photos.
If you find a fraudulent posting based on your listing, notify the website where you found it so that the post can be flagged and removed.
Consumers should report potential scams to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov or 800-282-0515.
Mike DeWine is Ohio Attorney General.