Landlords see more scammers putting up fake rental listings

Local landlords are trying to stop it -- but scammers are listing properties that aren't for rent.
Published: Aug. 16, 2021 at 8:37 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Local landlords are trying to stop it, but scammers are listing properties that aren’t for rent. That has them trying to warn people of fake ads online at a time when many are scrambling to find housing.

Any given morning, one landlord says she can hop on Craigslist and find a handful of rental scams in just a few minutes of searching.

She says in a hot rental market like Burlington, some lean on Craigslist as their best option, leading to more and more awkward encounters.

“And people knock on the door because they want to see it, and they say it’s not for rent, call Emilie,” said Emilie Crawford with BTV Property Management.

Crawford says scammers list her properties for rent online even when people are already living inside.

“It’s going on in every town, in every city everywhere,” said Crawford.

The scammers take money from renters for a range of reasons from application fees to full first deposits.

Every 24-48 hours, Crawford’s team can flag 5-15 potential fraudulent ads, her properties and others.

“We have sort of perfected how we deal with it, but it is frustrating and it’s never going to stop,” said Crawford.

Crawford says the tight housing in Burlington is stressing the problem. Desperate times for renters mean desperate measures.

“Don’t let your emotions get you caught up in a scam,” said Charity Clark with the Attorney General’s Office.

Clark says they are all too aware of scams on rentals.

They see pictures getting copied, used in false ads, even scammers flagging legitimate ads to make room for more fake ads.

“The best bet is to educate consumers about how to protect themselves,” said Clark.

Clark says to go with your gut: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And she says to be protective of personal information and your money.

If you get caught in a scam, there are programs to help.

“It’s such a victory when we are able to stop a scam,” said Clark.

The Consumer Assistance Program through the Attorney General’s office is first. They can contact banks, postal services or dispute charges to try to stop money in its tracks.

It’s not perfect, but it can help.

“The faster you can catch the scam, the better,” said Clark.

But scammers continue to adapt.

Crawford sees them being more proactive, taking to Facebook, offering rooms to rent directly to those searching in housing groups. By now, she understands she and her team also have to be proactive.

“Especially once our -- the phony pictures are out there -- the legitimate pictures on fake ads -- they’re out there,” said Crawford.

Crawford recommends trying to stay away from Craigslist, though they post there themselves at times. They also want you to cross-reference addresses with Google searches and other rental sites. She says it isn’t always large scams, it can be small amounts of cash, too.

“Sometimes this isn’t for the large scams where they are going to get the rent and the security deposit. Often it is just to get an application fee, so they’ll talk to these people and say you need to apply before I show you the unit. Since it is only $30-40, they will Venmo that to whoever this person is,” said Crawford.

She also says scammers are hurting the desire to move to Burlington, something she sees as a problem down the line.

“It can affect my business, and it can affect a lot of other property owners,” said Crawford.

Information on the consumer assistance program can be found on the attorney generals website or they can be reached at 800-649-2424.

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