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Looking to rent? Consumer advocates warn of scams on social media

A businessman casts a fishing pole with a house at the end, luring a group of men to chase it off a cliff.
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Consumer advocates warn that summer is a popular time for scammers to target renters.

Summertime is the most popular time to move, but local consumer advocates warn that it’s also a popular time for scammers to target renters.

“Some scams are very cyclical. And this one is seasonal,” said Kristen Johnson, director of communications with the Better Business Bureau of Connecticut. “Between May and August, we see the most amount of moving and rental scams.”

They can vary, Johnson said, but these scams have become more common thanks to social media. A scammer – operating from anywhere in the world – can advertise a fake apartment online, then create a fake sense of urgency to score a security deposit or application fee from an interested renter and leave few traces behind.

“A lot of times the scammers who are pretending to be landlords will make up some excuse of why they can’t show you the property in person,” Johnson said. “But what they’re really doing is they’re stealing pictures of real homes and real apartments, and they’re pretending that they’re available to people. And these people are losing thousands of dollars because of it.”

Three rental scams in Connecticut were reported to the Better Business Bureau in the last two years, according to the organization’s scam tracker. Johnson said one scam resulted in a victim losing over $2,000.

“It was a company out of New York, and they had posted an ad for a home in Middletown. It turned out there was a family living there,” Johnson said.

Nationally, over 230 rental scams have been reported this year, up from the same time last year. Victims report losing an average of $550.

The warning comes as people across the state face skyrocketing rent prices and low vacancy rates.

“We are more susceptible,” said Johnson. “And scammers know that when people are in the midst of moving, they don’t always have time to do the necessary research.”

But there are ways to lower the chances of being a victim of a rental scam, she added.

The Better Business Bureau offers these tips:

  • Do an online search for the landlord’s email and phone number. If the same ad is listed in other cities, that’s a red flag. 
  • If you can’t see the property in person, try to find someone you trust to go and confirm that the unit is what’s being advertised online. 
  • Don’t fall for deals that are too good to be true. If a unit is well below market rate or promising extra amenities than normal, it could be a red flag. 
  • Be wary of required payments through cash transfer apps. Peer-to-peer apps are meant to be used with people you know. 

Johnson encourages people to use the Better Business Bureau’s scam tracker to both report and prevent a scam.

“You can look up scams there. So you can look up these landlords, these businesses, these companies that are advertising on social media and see, ‘Oh, someone else was scammed by them. This is not a legitimate company, I’m not going to give them my money,’” Johnson said.

Camila Vallejo is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. She is a bilingual reporter based out of Fairfield County and welcomes all story ideas at cvallejo@ctpublic.org.

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