Turn to Tara: New housing scam in tri-state area involves hijacked ads, phantom rentals, FTC says

The Turn to Tara team has uncovered some simple tips on how to tell when a deal is too good to be true!

Tara Rosenblum

May 18, 2023, 11:24 AM

Updated 392 days ago


Renters beware! Scammers across the tri-state are now offering up listings that don't really exist.
Officials are warning anyone in the market for a new home or apartment rental that there is new housing scam sweeping the tri-state that involves hijacked ads and phantom rentals.
The Turn to Tara team has uncovered some simple tips on how to tell when a deal is too good to be true!
“There's been a really tight market and scammers follow the headlines. You know they're after your money. They're after your personal information,” warns Colleen Tressler, of the Federal Trade Commission.
Tressler, a consumer education specialist in the Division of Consumer and Business Education, recently gave us the 411 on the dramatic spike in apartment scams across the tri-state -- many of them, involving bad actors taking over legitimate rental listings.
The scammers copy the pictures and descriptions of an online rental listing. Replace the agent's contact information with their own and post the phony ads on a new site. So, if you call or email about the rental, you'll reach a scammer who may take your money for an application fee deposit or first month's rent.
Then the scammer disappears, and you're left with no place to move into. And you might not even find out it's a scam until you show up at the door of what you think is your new home.
Tressler says the growing scam is playing out across New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. “When you ask to see the rental, the scammer posing as the owner might claim to be out of the country or give another excuse for not showing the property. They'll probably try to rush you into a quick decision and might tell you to send money by wire transfer gift card or even cryptocurrency to pay things like again your application fee deposit or first month's rent. The fake owner promises to get you the keys right away- except after you pay, the person you've been dealing with will disappear with all your money.”
So how can protect yourself from these phantom listings?
“So, when you start looking at an ad for a place you're interested in, search online for the rental’s locations address, along with the name of the property owner, or the rental company. If other ads come up for the same address, but with a different owner or rental company name that's a sign of a scam. And you also want to look for the name of the rental company and search the rental company's website. yourself to see if the property is listed there. If it isn't, the ad you found may be a scam. Remember that anyone who tells you to send money by wire transfer, gift card or cryptocurrency is a scammer,” Tressler says.
You should also be on the lookout for ads with spelling and grammatical errors or listing that overuse capital letters.
And, if you decide to move forward, consider paying with a credit card. That way if you have a problem, you can dispute the transaction directly with your credit card issuer.
As for those of you who think you might have been scammed already, Tressler says it’s important to speak up and report it to your local law enforcement agency --- along with the website where the ad was posted.
The FTC also wants to hear about it. You can log on to their online portal at fraud.ftc.gov, your report will go into a database that's used by law enforcement across the country
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