Avoid online rental scams with help of BBB

The National Multi Housing Council estimates about 32 percent of Americans rent instead of own a home. Many renters turn to online classifieds to find rental properties. Unfortunately, some are scammed by phony listings and tricked out of their hard-earned cash and their personal information. Your Better Business Bureau offers tips to help you avoid becoming a victim to these scams.

People searching for an apartment or house to rent often rely on online rental listings to find the right place, especially if they’re looking in another city or state. Unfortunately, scammers are taking advantage. Some make up phony listings, trying to lure renters with the promise of extra-low rent. They ask potential renters to send money before they see the apartment or sign a lease.

Over the last year, more than 74,000 inquiries and about 600 complaints were made to BBBs across the US and Canada about apartment finding and rental services. Locally, your BBB received more than 250 inquiries about this industry.

When looking to rent, your BBB advises you:

Visit the property you’re interested in renting before paying money or signing contracts.

Watch for someone using fake names or photos. Many times, the scammer will use someone else’s information to lure you to a rental property including photos stolen from other property advertisements, home furnishing catalogues or hotel Web sites.

Be suspicious if you’re asked to wire money, even if they tell you to wire funds to a friend or a relative’s name to be safe.

Be wary if the e-mail addresses used are from yahoo, hotmail, gmail, etc.

Ask if a credit check or application is required. If not, that’s a red flag.

Avoid landlords requesting security deposits or rent payments before you’ve signed a lease. While you may have to pay a small application fee, don’t make large payments before inspecting the property and signing a lease.

Be wary if landlords are out of the country or only communicate by e-mail.

Research the area’s average rental rates and be suspicious if the rate quoted is significantly lower.

Don’t give out personal information during an initial rental search.

If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Walk away.

Remember, you can also get help from your BBB. It can provide a list of BBB Accredited companies in the industry and reviews on ones you’re considering. Visit www.bbb.org or call (937) 222-5825 or (800) 776-5301.

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