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Beware of Rental Listing Scams

In the market to rent a new home or apartment? If so, use caution when responding to Internet rental listings. While most landlords are honest people who simply want to rent their property, some scam artists use fraudulent Internet listings to dupe people looking for rentals. Most rental listing scams are based on convincing people to send money, usually by wire transfer or reloadable cards, to a “landlord” or third party who is not who they pretend to be. It can happen like this:

“John” was looking for an apartment to rent and responded to a rental advertisement on an Internet classified website. The purported landlord told John that she was on vacation in Europe, and forwarded him a copy of the rental application by email. John filled out the application, providing personal information such as his name, address, birth date, and Social Security number. After John emailed the application back to the “landlord,” she told him that he had been accepted and asked him to wire an $800 security deposit. When John told the “landlord” that he wanted to view the apartment before paying the security deposit, she told him that she had four other potential renters and that he must send the payment within 24 hours to hold the apartment. John became suspicious and, after researching the listing on the Internet, realized the “landlord” did not own the apartment. Unfortunately, the scam artist already had John’s personal information, which placed him at risk of identity theft.

“Sue” was looking for a home to rent for her family of five. She responded to a rental listing on the Internet and spoke by phone with the purported landlord, who eventually asked Sue to send him $2,000 by wire transfer to receive the keys to the home. After Sue sent the money, the landlord sent her a $5,000 cashier’s check. He asked Sue to deposit the check in her bank account, keep $300 for her trouble, and wire the remaining funds to the “mover” who would ship his belongings to his new home. Sue asked her bank to look over the check. Sure enough, it was counterfeit. Sue called the “landlord” to ask for a refund of her security deposit, but his number was disconnected and she never heard from him again.

How Rental Listing Scams Work

Rental listing scams are a twist on advance fee scams, a form of fraud that has been around for decades. Scam artists, often located in another country, post rental listings online on classified and rental websites, among other places. The scam artists usually offer very low rental prices to attract as many potential victims as possible. The scam artists usually ask people to send money upfront via wire transfer or reloadable cards to hold the property or to pay the security deposit or first month’s rent. In some cases, the scam artist may ask people to fill out a rental application or other documents with personal and/or financial information, which the scam artist can use to commit the crimes of theft or identity theft. In the end, the “landlord” never provides keys to the property and disappears with the victim’s money and/or personal information. Before this, some scam artists may send a cashier’s check to the person and ask that they cash the check and forward a portion of the funds to a third party, such as a moving company. Invariably, the check is counterfeit, and the person’s bank holds him or her responsible for any funds sent to the scam artists.

Red Flags

When reviewing rental listings, look for these tell-tale red flags that the listing may be a scam:

Tips to Avoid Internet Classified Scams

Report Rental Listing Scams

If you discover that a rental listing is fraudulent, you should report it to the website on which it was posted so that it can take steps to delete the listing. In addition, to report an incident of online crime, you should contact your local police department, county attorney, and the following federal criminal investigative agencies:

Federal Bureau of Investigation
Minneapolis Office
1501 Freeway Boulevard
Brooklyn Center, MN 55430
(763) 569-8000
www.ic3.gov (External Link) (Internet Crime Complaint Center)

United States Secret Service
Minnesota Field Office
300 South Fourth Street, #750
Minneapolis, MN 55415
(612) 348-1800
www.secretservice.gov external link icon

United States Postal Inspection Service
Criminal Investigation Service Center
433 West Harrison Street, Room 3255
Chicago, IL 60699-3255
(877) 876-2455
postalinspectors.uspis.govexternal link icon

You may contact the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office for more information about rental listing scams, or to file a complaint, as follows:

Office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson
445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1400
St. Paul, MN 55101
(651) 296-3353 or (800) 657-3787
TTY: (651) 297-7206 or TTY: (800) 366-4812

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