CINCINNATI — With record high home prices in 2021, many people are looking for rental homes or larger apartments as a more affordable alternative.
But with the rental market red hot, too, and so competitive, it is so easy to fall for a rental scam, as a Cincinnati woman just learned.
Amy Hairs is a minister at the Burning Bush Apostolic Church in Walnut Hills, who is looking for a rental home with her husband.
Her prayers were answered when she found a great home for rent on Craigslist.
"It is a beautiful 4-bedroom, 3-bath home, $1,100 a month," she said. She was excited to finally find something affordable.
Just to be sure, she drove by to have a look.
"When I went there it was exactly like the pictures," Hairs said.
So she texted the landlord, who said it was still available, but would be gone soon, so he said she needed to move fast.
"He told me I would have to pay a $1,200 security deposit as well as the first month's rent," Hair said, for a total of $2,300 cash up front.
But it was his next request that stopped her in her tracks.
"He wanted our Social Security numbers and a copy of our driver's license. I told him I was not comfortable giving that information," she said.
Rental scammers look for cash and personal information
Luckily, she stopped right there, before giving out her social or sending any money.
Good thing: It was another instance of the rental scam, where the house was really for sale, not for rent.
The scammer copied the original Zillow listing and photos, and reposted them on Craigslist.
Other people, though, are not so fortunate.
Over the summer, another local woman, Mariah Dates, told us she sent more than $600 to reserve a rental home that was also not really for rent, and lost the money when the "landlord" vanished with his temporary cell phone number disconnected.
Home sellers are also targeted, because it is their ads the scammers are looking for.
Stephanie Hollander was trying to sell her home two years ago, when scammers re-posted her listing, and started taking money from people.
"We were contacted a week ago by a woman who said she had rented our home," Hollander told us after the woman tried to get in to see the house.
So don't let this happen to you. The rental scam is real and can be found everywhere homes for rent are posted.
Warning signs of a rental scam
The FTC says be suspicious of rental listings if:
- The landlord wants a deposit before you have met.
- The landlord wants your Social Security number before you have met.
- There is some reason why the landlord can't get together in person, usually because he is "out of town."
- You can't go inside the home (although there is now a version of the scam where they break into vacant homes and actually let you go in by yourself).
- They ask for a deposit via Western Union, Venmo, Zelle, or gift cards (all untraceable).
- The home or apartment is priced much lower than similar units.
Your best bet is to do what Hairs did: If the landlord or his agent won't meet you in person, tell him the deal's off.
That way you don't waste your money.
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