RALEIGH, N.C. (April 27, 2021) – The housing market has seen unprecedented growth during the pandemic and Better Business Bureau serving Eastern North Carolina (BBB) is reminding homeowners, buyers, and sellers, to be cautious of housing-related scams.
“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve received reports of rental scams targeting vacant properties and eager renters, leading to the loss of victim’s personal information, money, and in some cases property damage,” said Mallory Wojciechowski, president, and CEO of BBB serving Eastern NC. “Whether looking to buy, sell, or rent in 2021, remember to do your research before making these important decisions.”
In 2020, rental scams had a 49.1 percent susceptibility rate with a median dollar loss of $800 according to the BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report. BBB offers the following information to help guard against housing scams.
How rental scams work:
Scam reports indicate that many con artists steal online rental listings – including the photos of the house or apartment and the property description – and create their own listings, which look legitimate but contain the scammer’s contact information instead of the property owner’s or rental agent’s. They may work out a deal with you over the phone, insisting that because of an emergency or circumstances outside of their control, they won’t be able to meet you in person or show you the property. Instead, they may invite you to drive by and send you a contract by mail or email.
Once you’ve signed the contract, they ask for your deposit and first month’s rent. In return, they will mail you the keys to the property. Your check or wired funds will be received, but no key will ever be sent in return, and the scammers will vanish into thin air.
Scammers are also using vacant addresses for even more sinister purposes. Some scammers look for vacant homes that don’t seem well-cared for – a “For Sale” sign, lack of an alarm system, and an unkempt lawn may be all it takes. After identifying a target, they actually break into the home, set up their own rental listing, and give tours to potential renters. In a few cases, renters have lived in a home and paid a false landlord for months before the truth comes to light.
Tips for renters:
- Confirm the identity of the landlord. A legitimate landlord won’t hesitate to show you their ID and will allow you to take a picture. You should be able to confirm they are the real property owner by checking county registers.
- Know local rental prices. If someone offers you a great rental for an extremely low price, proceed with caution.
- See the property first. Never sign a lease or make a deposit without seeing the property in person first.
- Never wire money to a stranger. Don’t give in to a sob story. If you wire money to a stranger and they don’t keep up their end of the deal, you’ll have no way to get your money back. Legitimate landlords should always accept payment by check.
- Watch out for red flags. If a property has a “for sale” sign, but the “landlord” wants to rent, something is up. It’s also suspicious if you arrive at a property and find a broken lockbox.
- Use the services of a reputable rental agency. This will give you an added layer of protection as you carry out your search.
If you own a home, or vacation home, that is currently vacant, you could be subject to rental scams. Consider the following tips to protect yourself against these cons.
Tips for homeowners:
- Secure all windows and doors to your vacant property.
- Maintain your property. A lawn and house that looks cared for will discourage scammers from targeting your property.
- Give an extra key to a friend or neighbor. Ask them to check up on your home periodically.
- Keep your alarm system up and running. You could also consider installing a system that you can check remotely to know who has visited your property.
- Put a hold on the mail. A mailbox overflowing with junk mail is a tell-tale sign no one is home and could attract scammers, thieves, and other suspicious individuals.
- Consider purchasing vacant home insurance.
- Notice the warning signs such as messages or mail directed to your vacant property with someone else’s name, complaints regarding rental agreements, or sales you did not make.
To find a reputable leasing agency or real estate agent, visit bbb.org.