Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph - Manhattan Tenant Rights and Representation Attorney
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Is that rental legitimate or an online scam?

It is important for renters to find a good property for a fair deal. But what if a deal seems too good to be true? Should you be suspicious? Sometimes a good deal is just that, but in other cases it could be an online scam.

How can I avoid a rental scam online? The number one thing to watch for is the requested payment method. With today’s technology, it is not uncommon to see requests for automatic or online payments. However, two requests that should automatically make you suspicious include the request of payment through a money wire (without seeing the property) or using a service such as Western Union.

Wiring the money. Do not wire money without seeing the property first. A request for a wire transfer, particularly overseas, is often a scam. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warns against this type of scam. The agency provides an example of an online rental scam involving a Craigslist classified ad:

  • The unit appears perfect. The catch — the landlord had to leave the country and was not able to promptly show the prospective tenant the property. A potential tenant could still secure the unit, as long as they wired the landlord two months in prepaid rent. Unfortunately, the home was not actually for rent and the money ended up in the hands of criminals.

Western Union. It is also concerning if the owner makes a request for payment using Western Union, Money Gram or “escrow services.” RentHop, a website that specializes in rental units, notes that it processes tens of thousands of messages between tenants and landlords who are structuring rental agreements and has “never seen an instance” where they prefer these types of payments.

More tips to avoid becoming a victim online. The FBI offers the following tips for potential renters:

  • Check out the average rental rates in that area. If the online rate for the unit in question is much lower, this may be a scam.
  • Don’t provide your information online, such as Social Security, financial account or credit card numbers.

In addition to avoiding these things, you can avoid a scam by considering whether the landlord appears to be legitimate. You may want to avoid doing business with a landlord that will not speak to you over the phone or meet you in person.

Be careful and take your time, and you will likely find a legitimate landlord with an actual unit to rent.