Columbus, OH (May 16, 2018) – It is not uncommon to see people around Central Ohio searching for new apartments in the spring and early summer – after all, May is National Moving Month. While looking for a new home, a local woman reported to BBB that she lost $1,550 in a rental scam.
“I was looking for a home on rent.com and found a listing for a half double in Columbus, Ohio,” she told BBB. The listing was by someone using the name Michael J. Stalter and provided his contact information.
The poster said he lived in Maine and would have to be paid by MoneyGram or Western Union. He asked for an initial $200 deposit, and gave the consumer a copy of his signature on the lease, a copy of his passport and a certificate of ownership of the property.
The lease looked official, breaking down the security deposit, monthly rent and application fee. The consumer went to Walmart and sent $1,550 to the poster’s realtor, Scott Pinette, in Sanford, Maine.
When she went to move in, things seemed off. “Nobody was there,” the consumer recalled. “The “For Rent” sign was gone. The double was cleared out. I looked up the listing on Zillow and called the realtor listed. She told me she was renting it to someone else and that I should call BBB.”
BBB helped the consumer file a report to the police.
If you are in the market for a new place to live, consider these BBB tips to avoid rental scams:
Do your research. Search for the realty company and apartment complex on bbb.org to see if there are any complaints or customer reviews.
Review the lease carefully before signing. Put a mark next to anything that you have questions about. If there’s something you wish to change in your lease agreement, it never hurts to ask. If there is an issue with the apartment that the landlord agrees to fix before you move in, be sure to get it in writing – including a date by which the repair or repairs will be completed.
Be careful on Craigslist or other sites with rental listings. Some ads might ask the potential leaser to wire money in order to secure the rental. Never wire or forward funds to someone you don’t know and never agree to a rental without first inspecting the property in person.
Be aware that scammers will go to rental websites, copy a rental listing (including photos) and repost them to Craigslist at a much lower cost.
Take additional costs into consideration. Some rental properties might require an application fee upfront. This covers a background check – including your credit score, criminal record and rental history. These fees are usually non refundable, even if you’re not approved. If you are approved, you will likely be asked to pay a security deposit. Make sure you’re clear about the conditions.
BBB warns renters to watch out for situations where:
The deal sounds too good to be true. Scammers will often list a rental for a very low price to lure in victims. Find out how comparable listings are priced, and if the rental comes in suspiciously low, walk away.
The landlord is located elsewhere and prefers to communicate solely through email. If the landlord claims they are unable to show you the apartment because they are traveling – or recently relocated due to work – this is often a sign it’s a scam.
The listing contains misspellings or grammatical errors. In most cases, this means the ad was created by a scammer overseas, one who isn’t familiar with the nuances of the English language.
High-pressure tactics are being used. Though the rental market is tight, there are always places for rent. Don’t be afraid to walk away you if you feel pressured to sign a lease. Ask for a copy of the lease agreement and give yourself enough time to review it in detail, including the fine print.
Consumers are encouraged to report scams to BBB Scam Tracker to help protect others in the Central Ohio community.
For more information, follow your BBB on Facebook, Twitter, and at bbb.org.
For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2017, people turned to BBB more than 160 million times for BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.2 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org. There are local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including BBB Serving Central Ohio, which was founded in 1921 and serves 21 counties in Central Ohio.