Rising Rental Scams: What Red Flags to Watch Out For

"If I had given out my all my information that he was asking for…then I probably wouldn't be able to move into any apartment because I'd be in a bunch of debt,” said a local woman who reported a concerning email she received to NBC Connecticut.

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We know the housing market is hot, with demand way out-pacing supply. That stress has trickled down to the rental market, too.

Now, scammers are taking advantage of stressed-out soon-to-be renters, too.

Thankfully an NBC Connecticut employee's daughter spotted the red flags.

“Whether it's the price, or whether it's the availability, it's really hard to find a place to live,” said 23-year-old Lindsay Browning, who just got a new job an hour and a half from where she live now in North Granby.

“It's just been a process of managing a full-time job, driving three hours a day for the commute and finding an apartment,” she said.

Just like bidding thousands of dollars over to buy a home, the rental market is seeing lots of competition, too.

“Just this past weekend we had an open house, probably more than 30 people,” said Joanne Collins, who has rented the cottage house behind her breathtaking water view Westbrook home for 26 years now.

The location sparked Browning’s interest. But after she applied for the cottage rental online, she said she got an email directly from a guy named “Peter Farrell” about the property, not Collins who’s listed as the main contact.

“It just got weird to me when he was asking for a bunch of information and sending me really long emails about how something…like a higher power had brought us together,” she said, showing us the emails.

Farrell asked for her to fill out an application and then he’d ship keys to her home, that’s when Browning stopped communicating with him and contacted us.

NBC Connecticut’s consumer investigator reached out to Collins, showing her the emails from Farrell.

“Not from me. Nothing to do with me. I have no idea how he, he certainly never has contacted me,” she said.

Thankfully Browning thought twice before sending over any of her personal information or cash, something Collins, an experienced landlord, said she would never ask for that early in the process without meeting face-to-face.

“You never think it would happen to you. Who would scam me? Well, they’re not scamming me, they’re scamming some poor person who thinks they can come,” said Collins pointing at her rental.

NBC Connecticut did email said “Peter Farrell” inquiring about the rental. No response.

While we’re still not sure how this stranger found Browning’s email, Better Business Bureau Serving Connecticut says nationwide, the number of people exposed to rental scams has increased by over 30% from last year.

“We’re seeing these con-artists copy real websites [using] legitimate pictures of rental properties, creating their own websites with these pictures,” said BBB Serving CT’s Director of Communications Kristen Johnson.

She warns, “If you are pressured to make a quick decision you need to take a step back because that is a red flag.”

BBB Serving CT sent us these tips:

  • Watch out for deals that are too good. Scammers lure you in by promising low rents, extra amenities, and a great location. If the price seems much better than elsewhere, it may be a scam.
  • Search online for similar properties. Do a quick search for the listing, scammer’s email address or phone number. If you find the same ad listed in other cities, that’s a huge red flag.
  • See the property in person. Don’t send money to someone you’ve never met for an apartment you haven’t seen. If you can’t visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust to go and confirm that it is what was advertised.
  • Don’t pay a stranger with cash transfer apps. Many scammers now ask for payments through peer-to-peer apps instead of wired funds or prepaid debit/gift cards. Only use these apps with people you know. It's okay to pay a landlord you trust with Venmo, Zelle or another P2P app, but don't use this payment method to secure an apartment or pay a deposit.

“The most common way we see these scams happen is through peer-to-peer apps. It’s one thing to use Venmo or PayPal to pay a landlord that you know or trust,” Johnson said.

Thankfully Browning spotted the red flags before moving forward because she could have been having a very different conversation with the NBC CT Responds team.

“Right? If I had given out my all my information that he was asking for…then I probably wouldn't be able to move into any apartment because I'd be in a bunch of debt,” Browning said.

We’ve heard of a Bristol woman who put down more than $2,000 for an apartment only to find out another family was already living there.

And remember it’s not just a cash concern here, scammers are looking for your personal information, too. So, be cautious and do your research.

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