With people flooding the housing market to look for, sell and rent property, a number of real estate and rental scams have been targeting prospective buyers and renters.
The scams typically will offer good deals on property or rentals and may ask for money upfront to seal the deal with the prospective customer, according to Kristin Setera of the Boston division of the FBI.
A common rental scam involves a supposedly-interested tenant sending a counterfeit check to a landlord.
The scammer would typically reach out to the landlord or person advertising space for rent and then reach an agreed price. The interested party — the scammer — could then either send a check to cover a rental deposit or a check with an amount in excess of the agreed upon fee, according to Setera. Sometimes the scammer will ask for the excess funds to be paid back once the check is cashed.
These checks may be cashed by the landlord, and since funds are not typically held by banks, the person cashing the check will have access to the amount the check was written for. However, once the check is found to be counterfeit, the victim would be held responsible for the counterfeit funds, Setera said.
Another type of scam that has become commonplace is falsified online real estate advertisements. Scammers will typically copy a legitimate real estate listing and repost it and create a fake email with the legitimate broker’s name.
When a person tries to contact the supposed owner of the house, the scammer will typically claim that they can not show the house without an up-front payment. If the victim in the situation is interested in renting the property, they are given the option to send money ahead of time, allowing the scammer to then remove the listing and move on.
Housing, rental and real estate scams have steadily increased over the past three years, according to the FBI. The Boston division of the FBI estimated that real estate and rental scams increased by 27 percent between 2020 and 2021 in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Mainers alone lost $489,309 to scammers between 2020 and 2021, according to FBI data.
In order to avoid rental and real estate scams, it is advised to never send funds to people you do not know, avoid sending money for a property that you have not been able to see and avoid taking money from people who have not seen a property, avoid filling out online forms until you have met directly with the property manager and be wary of renters offering cashiers’ checks if they are reportedly out of town or out of the area.
You should also work to ensure that the person you are contacting about a listing is a real person by doing background research on their contact information, affiliation to the property and other references or reputable testimonials from people who know them or have worked with them in the past. It is best to be wary if a potential landlord says that they are out of the country or out of the area and wants a check to be sent ahead or money deposited into a foreign bank account.
It is also advised to never cash checks that are written for more than the amount specified when discussing the appropriate fees with a potential renter or client.