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Friday, Jun 27 2014 03:00 PM

ACTION LINE: Avoid scams when renting property

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    By Contributed photo

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

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BY BLAIR LOONEY Contributing columnist

Dear Action Line: I live with one of my family members, and I am planning to move out and into a rental home. I found a three-bedroom and two-bath rental home priced for $1,100 per month on Craigslist. The posting included great pictures of the inside and outside of the home, and had a full description of the property.

The "owner" said that I could secure the place by sending money to cover the security deposit, but that I needed to move quickly since many people were interested. I was told that I would be guaranteed the keys to the place after I went to Wal-Mart or CVS and put money on a Green Dot card and mailed it to the "owner."

After repeated attempts to contact the "owner," I still have not received the keys and it's been over a week. Is there anything that I can do to get my money back?

Dear reader: Scammers prey on people every day and perpetrate their crimes in a variety of different ways. This scam has been around for many years and continues to find victims.

In a rental scam, scammers sometimes look for rental properties online and hijack an actual listing of a property that is for rent. Scammers use the photos and information of the actual property to create fraudulent posts often using Craigslist, Zillow, Trulia and HotPads. If you suspect that a post may be part of a scam, report it to the website.

There are services offered including financial assistance and compensation that help individuals who have been victimized by crime. There is no guarantee that you will get your money back, but for more information about victim assistance call 916-845-8301 or visit www.ovc.gov/welcome.html.

In some cases scammers obtain enough information such as social security, bank account, or driver's license numbers to steal the victims' identities. Usually this information is obtained by fraudulent paperwork that scammers urge the victims to submit. If you feel your personal information may have been jeopardized, visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft or call 877-438-4338.

Protect yourself and others in your community by reporting the scam. Report the scam to your local law enforcement, the Better Business Bureau, and the Federal Trade Commission.

To lower your chances of falling victim to fraud follow these tips:

* Be cautious of ads that sound too good to be true. Some examples include very low rent in comparison to other homes in the neighborhood and the landlord paying for everything including the utilities and lawn care service.

* Be cautious of owners that tell you they are out of the state or country.

* Never use Western Union, MoneyGram, Green Dot or any other money transfer service to pay a security deposit, application fee or first month's rent.

* Always meet the owner and visit an apartment or house in person before you make a payment. If for some reason you cannot visit the apartment or house, ask someone you trust to visit the property and confirm it's for rent.

-- 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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