Rental scams, perpetrated online through sites like Craigslist and Facebook, are becoming more and more common.
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) has received reports from various partners that consumers have "rented" properties advertised online only to find out later that the property was never available for rent. Consumers wired money to the "landlord" to hold the property. Now the consumers have no place to live and the "landlord" can't be found to return their money.
These types of scams can happen to any property listed online, be it through a real estate company or private seller.
"We recently had this happen to one of my listings," said Geoff Pedersen, Realtor at Alliance Realty. "We had several calls one morning asking about renting one of the properties we had listed. It was on Craigslist and they somehow got our listing pictures and descriptions."
He added, "One person even drove to the property and walked around. Fortunately, none of them had sent money to the person pretending to be the owner."
Casey Watters, a realtor at Real Estate Solutions, said she's seen the scams, too.
"Over the last few years our entire office has seen an increase in bogus real estate and rental listings. These fake listings can be very convincing!" said Watters.
She recommended taking a common sense approach to renting or buying property.
"Be wary of weird stories, like somebody is overseas for a few years and would like to rent their property out while their away. The scammer will likely ask for cash up front to hold the property or for a deposit. Never send cash or wire transfers to anybody you don't know," said Watters.
She added, "If you do think an ad is legitimate and agree to meet private renter or real estate seller in person, always meet at a safe public place prior to viewing the property and make sure somebody knows where you are at or where you are going."
The Bureau of Consumer Protection advises consumers when renting property, whether for vacation or longerterm housing, to:
• Know exactly with whom you are doing business. Does the person/management company actually exist?
• Verify the property address exists and is actually for rent.
• Inspect the property (inside and out) before you put any money down.
• Get a rental agreement in writing, if possible.
• Never wire money.
• Be cautious if you are asked to send money out of state when the property you are renting is located in Wisconsin. Ask why and verify the reason.
It is also a good idea to rely on friends, family, co-workers or local professionals to assist you in your search.
For more info or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at http://datcp.wi.gov or call the Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-422-7128.