BBB warns of rental fraud

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) - Finding a place to rent is fraught with potential. But whether that potential is good or bad depends on the owner or manager of that property - if it exists at all. Rental fraud is all too common.

Chris Thetford from the Better Business Bureau is here to discuss possible red flags when shopping for renters.

Rental fraud often shows up in classified ads - online or in print - for properties at prices that are well below prevailing market rates. Scammers know that shoppers are looking for the best deal, and a low-ball price can attract bargain-hunters.

Scammers may use pictures or descriptions from legitimate rental property ads to entice their victims, substituting their own contact information for that in the real ad. Or they may hijack the email accounts of property owners of reputable sites. In other cases, they make up listings for nonexistent properties.

The BBB has also issued warnings about services that promise to give you leads on apartments or homes to rent but that deliver nothing, homes that aren't in the appropriate price range or rentals that are no longer available.

Here are helpful tips that can help you find rental properties that are managed by honest landlords:

  • Check out rental companies or websites with BBB before you put down a deposit or meet a rental agent.
  • Get the rental agreement in writing before providing a deposit or rental fee, and make sure any verbal promises are covered in the agreement.
  • Never pay the entire fee up front, especially for a vacation rental. If an agent wants you to pay by wire transfer or a prepaid debit card, it's probably a scam!
  • If the price seems too good to be true, it could be a sign that the listing isn't legitimate. Compare the cost to similar nearby properties.
  • If possible, inspect the property before you rent it. Never put down money unless you are sure the rental is real.

For more information on rental fraud, visit: bbb.org