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FBI Tech Tuesday – Building a Digital Defense Against Rental Scams


FBI

Welcome to the Oregon FBI’s Tech Tuesday segment. This week: building a digital defense against rental scams.

In a hot housing market like we enjoy in Oregon and Southwest Washington, the risk of rental scams grows.

One common type of housing fraud involves the scam artist duplicating postings from legitimate real estate or rental websites. He then re-posts the ad as his own. Often he uses the real name of the broker or apartment manager, but he inserts a fake e-mail address. When the victim e-mails the fraudster inquiring about the home, she will receive a response from the fraudster claiming to be the “owner.” This fake “owner” typically comes up with a compelling back-story as to why he is selling or renting the home so cheaply.

He may say that he and his wife are away on a mission or volunteer trip. He emphasizes that they want someone who will take care of the home and treat it as their own which is why the rent is so minimal. The fraudster asks the victim to fill out paperwork online, paperwork that requests a lot of personal information such as Social Security numbers, full names, and more. He may ask the renter to send funds to a foreign country where he is allegedly working. In reality, the money will never be recovered. In the end, the victim loses their money and the home. They also may fall victim to further fraud schemes because they gave out their personal information online.

A second kind of housing fraud flips the scenario in that the homeowner is the victim, and the renter is the scam artist.

Once the parties agree on the rental price and move-in fees, the scammer sends a check. In some cases, the scammer sends too much money and asks for the overage to be sent back to him. In other cases, the scam artist writes a check for the proper amount, but then he backs out of the agreement and asks for a refund. In either case, the check, of course, is bogus. Often the victim doesn’t realize this until he pulls his own money out of the bank to make the refund.

Here’s what to watch for and how to protect yourself from rental frauds:

  • Do not accept overpayment for properties. If you receive a check for more than the specified amount, return it. Do not deposit it.
  • Do not wire funds to people you do not know.
  • Check with your county recorder to learn who owns the property you are seeking to rent.
  • Do not fill our applications online until you have met directly with the property manager.
  • Be wary if a potential tenant wants to rent property sight unseen.
  • Be wary if a potential renter says he is out of country and will send you a cashiers check.
  • Be wary if a potential landlord says he is out of country and wants the rent sent to a foreign account.

If you have been victimized by this scam or any other online scam, report your suspicious contacts to the FBI. You can file an online report at the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at http://www.ic3.gov or call your FBI local office.

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