Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine today warned that consumers across the state are reporting losing money to rental property scams. The Attorney General's Office has received more than a dozen reports of the scam since January, and consumers who fall for the scam report an average loss of about $1,000.
"We're heading into a busy season for home sales and rentals," DeWine said. "We want to warn Ohioans that some con artists are hijacking legitimate ads showing houses for sale, reposting them as houses for rent, and convincing consumers to send money for the deposit or first month's rent."
In a typical scenario, a scammer obtains the address and picture of a house that is posted for sale online and reposts it on another website as a house for rent. The rent is often low, and scammers may claim they had to leave the country quickly. In order to secure the rental, the scammer tells the potential renter to send hundreds or thousands of dollars, typically via wire transfer. Any money sent will be lost to the scam.
Consumers should take the following steps to protect themselves from the scam:
* Be skeptical of ads offering below-market rental rates.
* Don't trust potential "landlords" who say they had to leave the country quickly.
* Be skeptical of landlords who say they are missionaries in another country. (Scammers sometimes make this claim.)
* Don't send money until you've had a face-to-face transaction.
* Beware of requests for wire transfers or prepaid money cards as payment method.
* Use a search engine to do a search by image to determine where else an image has appeared online.
* Follow the scam prevention tips provided by any websites you use.
Real estate agents and sellers can protect themselves by following these tips:
* Don't list the complete address of the property you are selling online.
* Watermark your photos.
* If you find a fraudulent posting based on your listing, notify the website or provider where you found that listing.
Ohio landlords and individuals who want to lease their property also should be wary of overpayment scams. In this ploy, a con artist poses as a potential tenant, sends the landlord a (counterfeit) check for more than the asking price of the deposit or rent, and asks the landlord to send the difference. The check later will be returned as counterfeit and any money the landlord sends will be lost.
Consumers should report potential scams to the Ohio Attorney General's Office at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov or (800) 282-0515.