Contact 2: Protecting yourself against home rental scams

ST. CHARLES, Mo. – The housing market in the St. Louis area is hot right now and if you’re looking to rent you need to look out for scams.

A recent survey from “Apartment List” found 5.2 million Americans have lost money to a rentals scam.

Earlier this month Fox Files Investigator Chris Hayes reported on a rental scam in St. Charles where a woman answered Craigslist ads for homes on Redwood and Concordia. Problem is the ads for those homes weren’t posted by the people who own them. Sydney Bennet, a senior research associate for Apartment List tells us the exact technique being used in St. Charles is being used by scammers across the country.

“A scammer will copy a real listing and just change the contact information so if you look up the property online, it exists but that’s not the person who can actually rent the property to you. If you pay a deposit or rent that money is as good as gone.” Said Bennet.

In a recently conducted survey, Apartment List found an estimated 31.3 percent of rental fraud victims lost more than $1,000 from rental scams and 17.6 percent lost more than $2,000. The median loss was $400.

“One of the main findings is that nearly half of renters have encountered a listing they suspect is fraudulent during a rental search.” Added Bennet.

In the St. Louis area Bennet says 17.4 percent of people surveyed said they encountered a rental scam with 4.3 percent of those people have lost money to the scam.

So, what can you do to protect yourself? Experts say don’t make any payments until you actually visit the property. Before you do that, search the address on other listing sites and verify the landlord is the actual owner of the property. Try to speak with that person in person as well as any previous tenants. And when it comes to payments Apartment List recommends using a check or credit card instead of a wire transfer or cash payment.