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Scam Alert: Virginia Renters Beware

Rental scammers try to lure in consumers with the promise of low rent or great amenities for properties that either don't exist or that they don't own or manage. (Adobe Stock)
Rental scammers try to lure in consumers with the promise of low rent or great amenities for properties that either don't exist or that they don't own or manage. (Adobe Stock)
July 24, 2019

RICHMOND, Va. - People in Virginia looking to rent homes or vacation property need to take some extra precautions. A new alert from AARP Virginia says rental scams are rising across the state, and online scams in particular can rob people of thousands of dollars.

It's become all too common for a scammer to hijack a real rental listing by changing the contact information and posting photos of the property on another site. When a prospective renter wires a deposit or rent money, the scammer disappears with it.

Jeff Abramo, manager of communications and community outreach for the AARP Fraud Watch Network, said these types of cases increase during the summer months.

"People across the state of Virginia may want to go to the beach during the summer, they might want to rent a property, but they may be coming from across the state," she said. "And, again, in a lot of cases, these are the folks that are very vulnerable."

Whether it's a new place to live or just a vacation rental, Abramo said to watch out for anyone who requests payment via money wire, peer-to-peer apps or cash. If you found the bogus rental ad online, the FBI suggests reporting the scam to the website where it was posted, as well as filing a report with the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center.

You also can report your experience to the AARP Fraud Watch Network. Abramo said it's never a good idea to send money to someone you haven't met in person, for a house or apartment you haven't seen. Also, compare prices. If the rental amount is a lot less than comparable ones, that could be a red flag.

"Do the research, try to double check that the properties are legitimate," she said. "Don't prepay, and if you do prepay, it's probably better to use a credit card, because if you do find out that you're being victimized, the credit cards are a lot more flexible in stopping payment."

According to a 2018 study by apartmentlist.com, more than 5 million people across the United States have lost money to rental fraud. For one in three, the loss is more than $1,000.

Report scams to aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.

Disclosure: AARP Virginia contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Health Issues, Hunger/Food/Nutrition, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Diane Bernard, Public News Service - VA