Online Housing Scams Make a Return

How can a high-tech scammer that is thousands of miles away be ripping you off right in your own neighborhood?

It’s an age old scam, but now it’s more popular than ever. People are getting conned in this apartment scam because of thieves claiming to be renting an apartment that they don’t actually own.

It’s a story we’ve told you before (see some of the past stories embedded below). But with a lousy economy and renting becoming more popular, people are still getting scammed out of their money.

Postings from online websites about cheap apartments for rent seem like an offer you can’t refuse. Beware though -- many of these postings are scams.

Here’s how it works: the scammer steals the information about a real apartment for rent usually from a legitimate online real estate site. Then they advertise the place for rent on online websites like Craigslist with the actual information that is copied and stolen.

These postings seem legitimate and even contain pictures of the property.

Realtors that the NBC10 Investigators spoke with say it’s not a difficult scam to pull off.

“It’s too easy to lift this information, to click and copy and paste and create your own advertisement offering somebody else’s property for rent,” Bob Weiss said.

In the past the NBC10 Investigators spoke with one local woman who sent all kinds of personal information to a scammer who claimed to be miles away and looking for someone to rent his house while he was doing missionary work in Nigeria. She worried that the scammer learned everything from her credit history to the breed of dogs she owned.

One e-mail a viewer shared with the NBC10 Investigators, tells a sad story of a woman who is now in London being taken care of by her family because of a car accident that left her in a wheelchair and her husband dead.

The woman is asking for a responsible renter to take care of the home she shared with her late husband. Yet, all of that is part of the scam and she really doesn’t own the property. The scammer ends the e-mail saying, “Thanks and God bless you for your interest.”

Experts say some red flags that these are scams are if the thieves mention “God,” or being away doing missionary work in their posting. Many times there are misspellings, poor grammar and excessive capitalization.

Here are a few basic tips to keep in mind to avoid getting scammed:

  • Only deal with people locally that you can meet in person.
  • Be sure to see the interior of the property before you rent it.
  • Never wire money via Western Union or any other money wiring service.
  • Never give our financial information or copies of ID.
  • Look at comparable listing prices for properties like the one you are looking to rent and see if the price is reasonable.
  • Consider using a rental agency or a realtor.

Craigslist posts a warning on their website to users in order to avoid this problem.

The Better Business Bureau also gives tips to consumers to avoid getting scammed.

If you have been a victim of an apartment scam, contact the Better Business Bureau (703) 276-0100.

Also, we want to hear how you got scammed, contact the NBC10 Investigators at 610-668-5645.

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