The FBI has warned residential property managers, investors, and tenants against a rise in rental and real estate scams in recent months.
The FBI Boston Division first noticed an uptick in fraudulent activity in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, but news of similar scams is surfacing in Florida and Texas as scammers take advantage of desperation in a tumultuous housing market. In one incident in Austin, Texas, two disabled women on fixed incomes were conned out of nearly $2,000 in crowdfunded capital on an apartment that didn’t exist.
According to the report, 2021 saw a 64% increase over 2020 in losses reported nationwide – 11,578 people reported losing $350,328,166.
The FBI warned the public to be vigilant of common scam tactics, including overpayment for properties. Scammers will often write deposit checks for more than the agreed-upon rental price and request for the remainder to be remitted back, with serious legal and financial consequences for victims.
According to the Better Business Bureau, another common scam routine involves duplicating legitimate rental listings on dummy websites, altering information including providing fake email addresses. Per the recommendation of Realty Austin agent Debbie Barrera, real estate professionals can attempt to intercept fake listings by setting up Google alerts to notify them whenever an owned or managed property is mentioned online. Additionally, superimposing watermarks onto rental property photos will deter scammers from stealing them for their fake listings.
The BBB suggests thoroughly evaluating any behavior that seems suspicious, such as when a potential renter or landlord refuses to meet in person, or insists on paying with a wire transfer or third-party app.
The FBI in turn advises anyone who believes they’ve fallen victim to a rental scam to immediately cease contact with the suspected scammer and file a report with local officials or the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Since transparency is the basis of trust, it is crucial that real estate professionals not only avoid getting scammed themselves, but that they prove themselves reputable to hesitant renters. Using secure software platforms like PayProp, automating strict safety protocols, and being aware of classic red flags are all viable methods for property managers to protect themselves, landlords, tenants, and the overall operation and integrity of the real estate sector.
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