LIHUE — The place seems like a dream come true: the right space, the right location, the right price. But is it really for rent? Or will the renter or traveler arrive to find their money gone with nowhere to stay?
An in-depth investigative study by Better Business Bureau found that fraud is widespread in the online-rental-home and vacation-rental markets, with 43% of online shoppers encountering a fake listing and more than five million consumers losing money to such scams.
The investigative study — “Is That Rental Listing Real? A BBB Study of Rental Scams Involving Apartments, Houses and Vacation Properties” — notes that 85% of consumers encountering fake rental listings do not fall for them.
Even though the rate of people falling for these scams is low, there is still a record $37 million in reported losses this year alone. These figures suggest that the volume of rental scams lurking on the internet is staggering.
According to the study, rental scams can take several forms. Perhaps most commonly, fraudsters simply copy the photo and description of a property, post it online with their own contact information and try to get a deposit and first month’s rent from the victim.
The fraudster may communicate only by email or text message and may claim to be out of the country and unavailable to show the property. Once the victim sends money, the fraudster disappears.
“While an advertised rental that meets your needs at a great price might be tempting, this BBB investigation shows the risk of encountering a scam is real,” said Tyler Andrew, CEO of BBB Northwest and Pacific. “Consumers shouldn’t rush into paying upfront fees for housing rented sight-unseen. Instead, take time to verify the details of listings.”
BBB Scam Tracker has received more than 1,300 reports of rental fraud from 2016 to 2019.