How to avoid the influx of fake rental ads

Close up of For Rent sign on white picket fence in front yard of house.

You might think you’ve found your dream home, but your nightmare may have just begun. 

Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning Canadian renters to watch out for fraudsters after it found nearly half of all rental housing ads are scams.

The problem is so widespread, that it cost renters nearly $1.4 million in the last three years, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

Besides real estate listings sites, scammers post ads on Craigslist, Kijiji, and Facebook Marketplace, which have systems in place to try to filter out fake ads. They also ask people to report scams.

The fraudsters can be complex organizations and be based halfway around the world.

“Specifically, studies of Nigerian fraud gangs that engage in business email compromise and romance fraud show that these groups also perpetrate rental fraud,” said BBB in its report. 

“These scammers need a way to obtain victim money because most renters would be highly unlikely to send funds directly to Nigeria.”

One of the most common scams is copying an actual listing from another site, replacing the contact information, and reducing the price below market levels. Money is requested upfront without a face to face meeting.

“Those looking for the best price are likely to be attracted to the bogus listings,” said BBB.

“If renters are planning to move to a new city and cannot travel to inspect the unit in person in advance, they may be especially vulnerable to this type of fraud.”

Here is an example of an email response from a scammer on Kijiji.

(BBB)

Once a renter fills out an application they usually get a response like this one by a Nigerian scam gang.

(BBB)

BBB has a series of red flags to watch out for:

  • The owner is out of town, and you cannot see the unit in person before sending money.

  • There is a “for sale” sign in the yard.

  • The alleged owner or property manager wants money through Western Union, MoneyGram, or a gift card. No legitimate business gets paid this way.

  • The rent advertised is well below market rates.

You can also search the images, address, and description to see if they appear on other sites. 

BBB also suggests checking the property owner’s ID.

Jessy Bains is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow him on Twitter @jessysbains.

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