Tech Alert

Rental Scams
Moving to a new city? Planning a vacation? As you consider issues like size, cost, and location of the rental, also consider this: that rental listing could be a scam. Scammers often advertise rentals that donít exist or arenít available to trick people into sending money before they find out the truth. This scam has been report in Ft. Smith recently.

How Rental Scams Work
Scammers know that finding the right apartment or vacation rental can be hard work, and a seemingly good deal is hard to pass up. Theyíve been known to game some vacation rental websites and bulletin boards. The take-away: when youíre looking for a rental, itís caveat renter ó renter beware.

Hijacked Ads
Some scammers hijack a real rental or real estate listing by changing the email address or other contact information, and placing the modified ad on another site. The altered ad may even use the name of the person who posted the original ad. In other cases, scammers have hijacked the email accounts of property owners on reputable vacation rental websites.

Phantom Rentals
Other rip-off artists make up listings for places that arenít for rent or donít exist, and try to lure you in with the promise of low rent, or great amenities. Their goal is to get your money before you find out.

Signs of a Scam
Being savvy when youíre in search of a rental is well worth the effort. Here are some signs you may be dealing with a scam:

They tell you to wire money
This is the surest sign of a scam. Thereís never a good reason to wire money to pay a security deposit, application fee, first monthís rent, or vacation rental fee. Thatís true even if they send you a contract first. Wiring money is the same as sending cash ó once you send it, you have no way to get it back.

They want a security deposit or first monthís rent before youíve met or signed a lease
Itís never a good idea to send money to someone youíve never met in person for an apartment you havenít seen. If you canít visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust to go and confirm that itís for rent, and that it is what was advertised. In addition to setting up a meeting, do a search on the owner and listing. If you find the same ad listed under a different name, thatís a clue it may be a scam.

They say theyíre out of the country
But they have a plan to get the keys into your hands. It might involve a lawyer or an ďagentĒ working on their behalf. Some scammers even create fake keys. Donít send money to them overseas. If you canít meet in person, see the apartment, or sign a lease before you pay, keep looking. What if the rental itself is overseas? Paying with a credit card, by PayPal, or through a reputable vacation rental website with its own payment system are your safest bets.

How to Report Scams
If you find yourself the target of a rental scam, report it to your local law enforcement agency and to the FTC and FBI. Contact the website where the ad was posted, too.