BBB Investigation: Growing number of rental scams reported in SWLA

Rental Scams

LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - Finding a new place to live is hard enough and it’s no secret that scammers are making the process even harder.

A new study by the Better Business Bureau found that more than 5 million people nationwide lost money because of fake listings for rental properties.

“It is a nationwide issue, however, we are getting more and more reports of it,” said President & CEO of the Lake Charles BBB Angel Guth.

As more people are renting homes and apartments, scams involving popular rental sites are expected to grow in 2020.

“A fraudster will take the pictures, a description and copy it and put out their own information rather than the correct info that was provided by a broker or property manager,” said Guth.

Guth said Lake Charles and surrounding areas are a prime target for this scam.

“We’ve had about 20 calls reported to us, however, it happens a lot more," she said.

Heather Richard, a leasing manager with Briken & Associates, a local property management company says, unfortunately, her company has had to deal with the backlash of scammers--especially those putting fake listings of their homes on websites such as Craiglist and Zillow.

“We did have a property that we had listed for rent and all of a sudden we started getting a flood of calls questioning why we had a rent over here at a different price and they saw it on another website,” Richard said.

In that particular scenario, Richard says a victim ended up losing $600.

“It almost seems like we’re not legit when we are," she said. "It’s meeting with the people, going on the property, if you like it, then you come back, fill out an application and go from there because you’re dealing with somebody that’s real and not just through email and over the phone.”

The BBB Scam Tracker has received more than 1,300 reports of rental fraud from 2016 to 2019. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) reports more than $37 million in losses associated with complaints mentioning the word “rent” from Jan. 1, 2019 to Oct. 20, 2019.

The BBB notes several clues to look out for if you’re in the process of renting or buying a home.

In addition to warning consumers of red flags that may signal apartment or vacation rental scams, here are a few recommendations from the report:

  • Rental unit owners should watermark photos used for rental postings. This strategy will make it more difficult for scammers to copy photos of other properties posted online.
  • Website platforms listing houses, apartments and vacation properties should make an extra effort to screen for bogus listings. They should also explore ways to allow consumers to easily report scam listings.
  • Police should encourage victims to report not only to the rental platform but also to the FTC, BBB, IC3 or the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre for those in Canada.
  • Before sending money for a long-term rental, get a contract and demand the owner show you the place first.
  • Don’t fall for the “out of town” excuse from a potential leaser.

Here’s what to do if you are the victim of a rental scam:

  • File a report with local police.
  • Go to BBB.org to view a business' BBB Business Profile, including complaints and reviews, or to file a complaint or report a scam on Scam Tracker.
  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint or by calling 877-FTC-HELP.
  • File a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
  • For incidents in Canada, contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center. Call toll-free from the U.S. at 1-888-495-8501.

Readers can access the full report here.

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