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Friday, Apr 11 2014 05:14 PM

ACTION LINE: How to avoid a home rental scam

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    Blair Looney, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Central California.

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BY BLAIR LOONEY Contributing columnist

Dear Action Line: In the next couple months, my wife and I will be moving to a new city. We are trying to find the right rental home at an affordable price and good location.

We both regularly search online classifieds for rental homes, and we just came across a property that's in a great area and at a great price. There are great pictures of the property posted on the online advertisement, and it looks exactly like what we are looking for in a rental home. My wife and I are anxious to check out the property, but the landlord claimed that he was out of the state and could not show us the house. I was then told by the landlord that we needed to wire $1,200 to cover an application fee and security deposit in order to receive the keys to the rental home.

How can I tell if this is legitimate deal or if this is a scam?

 

Dear reader: Moving to a new city can be an exciting time in people's lives. It's important to be aware of scams when looking for a new apartment or house.

The advertisement that you came across probably looked legitimate, but a scammer may have hijacked a real rental or real estate listing and modified the advertisement on the site you visited. The person who altered the advertisement uses pictures of the rental and changes the email address or other contact information to include his or her own. He or she may have even used the name of the person who posted the original ad.

The most certain sign that this is a scam is the request to wire money. No matter if the reasoning includes paying a security deposit, application fee, or vacation rental fee, there's never a good reason to wire money. Remember wiring money is the same as sending cash: once you send it, you have no way to get it back.

Here are some tips to avoid housing scams:

* If you become aware of an online scam, report it to the site host. Most site hosts have links on the home page at which fraudulent listings can be reported.

* Never wire funds via Western Union or any other wiring service or purchase Green Dot money cards for payment.

* Meet the homeowner or property manager in person at the property to tour the home together.

* Never give out personal information (bank account, social security number, credit card number, etc.) until you have seen the property in person.

* Be wary if the advertiser will only communicate by text message, or claims to be out of the country; these are both indicative of a scam.

* Lastly, remember if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

-- Blair Looney is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 1601 H St., Suite 101, Bakersfield, CA 93301 or info@cencal.bbb.org.

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