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FBI Issues Warning of Rental Real Estate Scams

JUL 15, 2013 4:41pm ET
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The Federal Bureau Investigation and the Internet Crime Complaint Center is warning individuals to be cautious when posting rental properties and real estate online.

These warnings come after the IC3, a multi-agency task force made up by the FBI, the National White Collar Crime Center and the Bureau of Justice Assistance, received complaints from buyers who have become victim to scams involving rentals of apartments and houses.

According to the FBI, rental scams occur when the victim has a property advertised and is contacted by an interested party. Once the rental price is agreed upon, the scammer sends a check for the deposit on the rental property to the victim.

The check is meant to cover housing expenses and is either written in excess of the amount required, with the scammer asking for the remainder to be remitted back, or written for the correct amount.

As part of the scheme, the FBI said the scammer then decides to back out of the agreement and asks for a refund. Since banks do not usually place a hold on the funds, the victim has immediate access to them and believes the check has cleared. But in the end, the check is found to be counterfeit and the victim is then responsible for all of the bank’s losses.

Another type of scam that buyers have to be aware of involves real estate that is posted on classified advertisement websites. Thorough this scam, the scammer duplicates postings from legitimate real estate websites and reposts the ads after altering them.

Often, the fraudsters use the broker’s real name to create a fake email, which helps give the scam more legitimacy, the FBI stated. When the victim sends an email through the classified advertisement website claiming their interest in the home, they receive a response from someone claiming to be the owner.

The “owner” says that he and his wife are currently on missionary work in a foreign country and he needs someone to rent their property while they are away. If the buyer wants to rent the home during this time, they are then asked to send money to the owner in the foreign country. However, this entire scenario is actually based on a lie to deceive the prospective tenant.  

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