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Too good to be true? Scammers target Phoenix-area renters by advertising low rent prices

On Your Side exposes numerous home rental scams
Stephanie Sedlak tells On Your Side that scammers are known for duplicating pictures of homes for sale found online and reposting them as “for lease.”
Published: Jun. 8, 2022 at 6:00 AM MST|Updated: Jun. 8, 2022 at 10:28 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — The rent here in the Phoenix metro area is as high as it’s ever been. In fact, the average rent for two bedrooms is up 24% from last year to around $1,610 a month. That creates the perfect opportunity for scammers to rip you off.

Comb through the internet, and you’ll find all kinds of homes for rent. “This one is going for $1,100 a month,” On Your Side’s Gary Harper said as he pointed to an inexpensive house for rent online. “Wow, here’s one for just $900,” he said, surprised at the small amount.

Prices too low

But how can you determine which rentals are legitimate or scams? Well, ads with inexpensive rent are a red flag. For example, On Your Side found an advertisement indicating a five-bedroom, 2,643 square foot house will rent for just $1,000. So, On Your Side chose to investigate the house and we chose four other homes offering cheap rent so we could look into them as well.

Will they be scams? To find out, we called up the phone number for information. “I’m calling about your home for rent,” Harper asked the man on the other end of the line. “Did you find it on Craigslist or Facebook?” he asked. “It was on Craigslist,” Harper replied. It turns out the guy with the thick accent was a scammer. And so were the numerous others that we called that turned out to be fraudulent. I’ll tell you how On Your Side found out that in a minute.

Legitimate companies fight back

But first, legitimate rental companies and homeowners have been trying to deter scammers for years. And now, they’re doing their best to expose them. Stephanie Sedlak is with Opendoor. She tells On Your Side that scammers are known for duplicating pictures of homes for sale found online and reposting them as “for lease.” They then advertise it with extremely cheap rent to lure in unsuspecting victims and persuade them to send a security deposit or personal information. “Are people actually falling for it?” Harper asked her. “Unfortunately they are,” Sedlak replied.

So Opendoor and other legitimate companies are now posting signs on the homes’ sites saying, “This home is for sale. Not for rent” and “If you have found this home listed on Craigslist, Backpage or any other similar website it’s a scam.”

As for those pictures that scammers cut and paste as their own, Opendoor is now using a watermark saying, “This home is for sale not for rent,” making it almost impossible for scammers to repost the photos as rentals. “It’s a very clear watermark that goes across the entire photo so it’s really hard for a scammer to take it out or crop it out.”

And other reputable companies are even posting their name on their ads to make it harder for crooks to steal. But as On Your Side discovered, scammers are simply cropping the name and reposting the pictures anyway.

Scammers exposed

Getting back to those scammers we called, they all had out-of-state area codes and thick accents. The homes they claimed to be renting had very cheap rent. And finally, they requested my personal information first before providing the address of their so-called rental. “What is your credit score?” the conman asked Harper. To verify the information, they requested Harper’s personal information, like his Social Security number, first before providing the address of their so-called property. “Can I just have the address first so I can at least drive by and take a look at the outside first?” Harper asked. That’s when the scammer became frustrated and hung up.

In another conversation, another scammer emailed me a link that I was supposed to click on so he, too, could run my credit. “Do I have to provide my Social Security number?” Harper asked. “Yes,” the scammer replied. “But this information will help us so we can be able to see it, OK?” Needless to say, I didn’t click on the link. But it shows you how far these conmen will go to get your personal information or convince you to send money to secure a house.

As for those five homes we chose to check out, they all turned out to be scams because we found out those ads weren’t listed by the actual owners or property management companies. “Are you surprised at what we found?” Harper asked Sedlak from Opendoor. “I’m not surprised at all. You know scammers are finding all kids of ways to manipulate consumers. Right from the beginning, when you find a home for rent, you have to do your research,” said Sedlak.

Other red flags to look out for include if you’re unable to physically meet someone face to face about renting a place or if they offer to send you the keys if you send a security deposit, it’s most likely a scam.