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State: Beware of fake ads for rentals online

Published July 13, 2012 12:14 pm

Fraud • Scams ask consumers for money wire transfers.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Utah Department of Commerce is warning consumers about scammers who are creating fake rental property listings on online classified websites.

The ads say real estate is available for rent and ask those interested to wire money through a transfer service to obtain a key to the property. In most cases, the wired funds are not recoverable because the scammer is based out of the country, and consumers don't discover the fraud until they show up at the address and find out it is not a legitimate rental property.

"Young people seeking rental properties need to be especially careful when searching housing ads online," said Francine Giani, the department's executive director. "Many have grown up with the Internet and feel comfortable doing business without face-to-face interaction, which can make them more vulnerable to these types of online scams."

Some of the sites scammers have used include ksl.com and Craigslist, officials said.

The Division of Consumer Protection and Division of Real Estate have received complaints from real estate sales agents, potential renters and property managers about such scams.

Some of the common elements found in these fake rental ads include:

• The language in the online classified listing is very poor, as if someone used a translation program to generate the words.

• The property cannot be inspected or shown in person because the "landlord" is either located in another state or is said to be in Africa for work or serving a church mission.

• The telephone numbers listed in the ads or in follow-up emails are for out-of-state or international numbers.

• Names used list prior property owners as the contact person.

• The person claiming to have authority to rent the property requests a deposit via wire transfer.

"Consumers should carefully consider any rental property situation before handing over information or money, whether as a landlord or as a renter," said Deanna Devey, communications director for the Utah Association of Realtors. "Be on your guard for situations that seem too good to be true, such as a low deposit or rent, as well as for situations where a landlord wants money wired without showing you the house. We recommend using a Realtor who has experience in rental properties to help you vet potential renters or find units that are legitimately for rent."

The Division of Consumer Protection recommends that consumers not send any money through a wire transfer service unless the recipient is a trusted and known source. Also, the public is reminded to never give out personal account information, Social Security numbers or other identifying information to strangers. —

To report a problem

Visit http://www.consumerprotection.utah.gov or contact the Division of Consumer Protection at 801-530-6601 or toll free 1-800-721-SAFE