How to spot a rental scam and what to do if I got scammed?
Nowadays, looking for an apartment for rent is almost a full-time job. From establishing your search criteria, putting together all the documents required for the application, searching through thousands of listing websites, contacting landlords, real estate agents, or property managers, getting through the negotiation process, and the most important during all of these steps: making sure the rental listing is legitimate.
Despite there are plenty of resources and information on the internet about what is rental fraud and how to avoid it, nobody is exempt from falling for it since scammers are always coming up with new tricks to fraud renters. If in normal times this is something that happens very often, we have to be extremely careful during these pandemic times, where visiting apartments for rent may not be possible.
If you have been a victim of rental fraud, it’s possible that you feel overwhelmed and frustrated for not knowing exactly what to do and where to report it. We have compiled a list of steps to follow to report the scam to the competent authorities and parties.
But the truth is that no matter what was the reason why it happened to you, all of them are fine. Nobody wants to lose time and money, and being scammed is something that could happen even if you have carefully taken the security precautions since there are tons of skilled scammers out there.
So, don't blame yourself. For every experience in life, for sure there is "something" we all could have done better, however, on some occasions, things just happen even to the most cautious person.
The most important thing is to get down to work and report the fraudster to the proper authorities.
How to report a rental scammer
If you got scammed or identified a rental scammer while looking for an apartment, then follow the next steps to properly report the fraudster:
- Contact your local law enforcement: By contacting your local authorities, they will fill out a report of the facts and work to find the scammer.
- Report the rental frauhttps://prod.rentalpaca.com/cms/pages/13/delete/d to the FTC Consumer Protection: The Bureau of Consumer Protection is a department of the Federal Trade Commission, with a presence in every state of the US, in charge of preventing unfair and/or fraudulent business practices. Through it, consumers can file a complaint whenever they need to report an illegal or deceptive business. Rental scams can also be reported there.
- Report it to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3): If the rental scammer tried to fraud you online, you can also file a report to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), which is a mechanism to report to the FBI, internet criminal activity. Although it doesn't ensure you will get your money back, it will help to track down the scammer, as well as to protect your community.
- Notify the listing website: Let the listing website where you find the fraudulent ad, know about what happened, in order to remove the ad and prevent other users from being scammed. If it happened through one of our housing Facebook groups, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Report it to your bank: If you already wired any amount of money to the scammer to a bank or PayPal account, you should let your bank know that you have been a victim of rental fraud, providing as many details as possible, and requesting them to reverse the transaction if possible. Unfortunately, this is not possible if you made the payment through money transfer companies like Western Union or Moneygram.
- Spread the word through online housing communities: If you are looking for an apartment, it's possible that you have joined housing communities on social media (e.g. housing Facebook groups). If so, we suggest letting the community know, by posting a scam alert on the group. Apart from protecting others, you could also get advice or tips from other members who have been through the same experience as you.
Following these steps won’t necessarily guarantee that you will get your money back, but at least would help to stop the scammer, as well as to help protect other renters.
Do not blame yourself
Last but not least, one important thing to keep in mind if you have been scammed is not to blame yourself, these people are criminals, period.
In many cases, getting scammed is a consequence of either lack of renting experience, being in a rush for finding a new apartment for rent, not knowing the city or not being physically available to view the properties, or simply because you were in contact with an experienced scammer who knew how to do his/her things to make you fall for it.