Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and the Boise Police Department are warning Idahoans about an uptick in scams involving fake rental listings. One victim recently lost $2,400.
The ploy works like this: Scammers use pictures and descriptions of homes that are legitimately listed for sale or rent on real estate websites. They then create fake posts – usually on Craigslist – and offer the home for rent at an unusually low price. Potential renters contact the scammers, who soon ask for payment, often through digital cash apps like Venmo or Zelle.
Boise Police Crime Prevention Supervisor Ed Fritz says the scam is not new, but has been unusually prominent in recent weeks. He says police have received dozens of reports from local renters about the scam. Wasden’s Consumer Protection Division has also heard from Treasure Valley renters exposed to the scam. Police say scammers have even been able to obtain digital access codes to rental lock boxes, which allow victims to view properties. This helps the scammer appear legitimate.
In Idaho, Craigslist offers services in Boise, Twin Falls, Lewiston and East Idaho. The scam can easily be reproduced in these locales, meaning renters all over the state should beware.
If you’re in the market for a rental, the following tips can help protect you from scams:
Be cautious where you look online. Scammers choose sites that allow them to post free listings.
Do a search for the address, pictures, or property description. Often scammers steal pictures and information from real rental properties or homes for sale. Look for alterations or blurry spots in the photos.
If the deal is too good to be true, it probably is. If a typical 3-bedroom, 2-bath, 1,500 square foot house typically rents for $1,500 or more, be wary of the one that’s listed for $800 or $1,000.
Be suspicious if the landlord or agent cannot meet you in-person, talk on the phone, or allow you to see the property. Some scammers claim to be out of the country or say that someone is living in the house but you can look through the windows.
Do not let a purported property owner or manager pressure you into acting before doing your research. Scammers may tell you that you have to act now or lose the rental to another person.
Never wire money or send gift cards to secure a rental, and be cautious of sending money through digital apps like Venmo. Wiring money and sending gift cards is like using cash – once gone, it’s almost impossible to get it back. Apps also allow a renter to send money to scammers quickly when they think they’re first in line for a great deal.
If you’ve been a target of a rental scam, report it to local law enforcement, the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division and the Federal Trade Commission. Also, contact the website where you found the fake listing so it can be removed.
Photo: An example of a legitimate listing and a related scam listing. Note how the photo in the scam ad has been manipulated in the lower left corner. (Used with permission from Home River Property Management.)