Scammers ready to pounce in tight rental market

online scam
online scam illustration Photo credit Getty Images

(WBBM NEWSRADIO) — With the housing market getting a little tighter, more and more people are looking to rent instead of buy.

Scammers are taking advantage.

“Scammers kind of lure you into promising low rents in a great location,” said Steve Bernas, President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois. “But if the price seems much better than elsewhere, it most likely is a scam.”

The recent surge in rental scams are particularly dangerous because people can be robbed of not only money but also their personal information.

“If you think about it, the application they're being asked to fill out has a lot of pertinent information that could be used to damage your personal identity, including your Social Security number or bank account numbers,” added Bernas.

The scam often works with a common theme. Victims respond to an online rental listing that touts a beautiful home with low rent and great amenities.

It looks legitimate, too.

“They just copy and paste somebody else's advertisements or somebody else's listings,” said Bernas. “So, consumers also need to do a reverse Google search for that particular picture and see how many other websites that appear on and that's a good indication something is wrong.”

Renters reported to BBB Scam Tracker losing thousands after paying fees to hold an apartment, making a deposit, and paying the first month’s rent.

BBB Tips to avoid this scam:

—Find trustworthy rental firms and agents. One place to start is at bbb.org.

—Watch out for deals that sound too good to be true.

—Search online for similar properties.

—Do a quick search for the listing and the related email address or phone number. If you find the same ad listed in other cities, that’s a huge red flag.

—See the property in person. Don’t send money to someone you’ve never met for an apartment you haven’t seen. If you can’t visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust to go and confirm that it is what was advertised.

—Don’t pay a stranger with cash transfer apps. It's ok to pay a landlord you trust with Venmo, Zelle, or another P2P app, but don't use this payment method to secure an apartment or pay a deposit.

If you’ve been the victim of a rental scam, you can report it at BBB.org/ScamTracker.