Rental Rip-Offs Hit Close To Home: A Taking Action Investigation

Mr. Bates seemed like a nice man.  His grammar wasn’t great and his lower case “i’s” were bothersome.   Still, you could tell he was kind of man who probably cared about his tenants.  At least, it appeared that way.

Nigerian scams have many variations.  After all, we don’t truly know where these bogus landlords live.  But these days, they are hitting close to home.  And if you’re in the market for a rental property and surfing the web, there’s a good chance you will stumble upon a rental scam.

Local realtors are seeing a surge of cyber scammers across the Tennessee Valley.  These scammers play on an emotional high – if you see a great deal on a rental property, you’ll likely want to pursue it.

Diane Hasley with Capstone Realty said it’s hard to come across a great rental deal our area, and the cyber scammers know that. “There is limited supply and you run across a good deal, you are tempted to think, maybe this is true,” Hasley explained.

WHNT News 19 corresponded with a few of the phony landlords.  Here’s what we discovered.

The criminals search websites that list homes for sale.  They take the information and then post it, with their own email address.  We found phony ads on Craigslist, as well as Zillow, Trulia, Hotpads and other free posting sites.

The deal they offer is much lower than the market rental value.  The consumer then contacts the “homeowner” via e-mail, who usually explains that he or she is overseas because of a new job opportunity.  In one case, our phony landlord said he was doing missionary work in Africa. Eventually, victims are instructed to send or wire money.  You lose, and the crooks win.

How to avoid being victimized:

  • Only deal with landlords or renters who are local.
  • Be suspicious if you’re asked to only use a wire transfer service.
  • Beware of e-mail correspondence from the “landlord” that’s written in poor or broken English.
  • Be wary if they offer up too much personal information.
  • Research the average rental rates in that area.
  • Don’t give out Social Security, bank account, or credit card numbers.

Do your homework:

  • Call the Huntsville Area Association of Realtors at 256-536-3334.
  • Deal with a local realtor.  You can verify an agent is licensed in the state of Alabama at www.http://arec.alabama.gov/
  • If you have been a victim of Internet crime, please file a complaint at http://www.IC3.gov.


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