HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Scammers are duping unsuspecting renters out of thousands of dollars by getting them to wire money to a property they list online. The problem is they don't own the property.
Michele Mason of the Better Business Bureau says the scammer takes pictures of properties that are really for rent or sale, sometimes stealing them off genuine listings, and creates a bogus ad indicating they are offering the property.
Usually the person claims to be serving in the military and for some reason is overseas so they cannot show you the property personally. They try to conduct the entire purchase or rental through electronic means.
"You are emailing each other, you're looking at pictures. Maybe you are from out of town and don't have time to travel and trusting that what you see on your screen to be reality," Mason said.
In fact, the person on the other end of the transaction is not the property owner and the property may not be available for rent or sale. The property may not even really exist.
"If someone is telling you they have a property for rent or sale and they have an excuse why you cannot view it, it is a huge red flag," said Mason.
Most of the listings are online on sites such as Craigslist, and the scam artist will want you to wire them money – another red flag. Mason said this is an indicator the scammer does not want a paper trail.
The BBB recommends that you never rent a home online without looking at the property in person. You need to look at the condition of the property no matter who you are dealing with.
In addition, if someone tells you they cannot show you the property, ask if someone else can. If the answer is no, walk away.