CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey bas issued a warning to consumers about a rental property scam that is recirculating throughout West Virginia.
In the scam, fake rental advertisements are posted on websites such as Craigslist and other classified sites. When potential renters contact the supposed landlords, they are provided information about properties that might not exist, are not available or are owned by someone else. The landlords often ask for rent up front with a promise that keys or a lease will be mailed upon receipt of payment.
“Scammers find homes on real estate sites that are for sale or rent and appear vacant, and then use that information to place fake rental ads,” Morrisey said. “People should be very cautious when searching online for a place to rent and be sure they are communicating with the actual homeowner.
"It is important to verify that the rental property is legitimate before sending money.”
The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division has received multiple complaints about bogus residential property rental over the past several months. The most recent claims that his tenants have received a number of unexpected visits from people who were interested in renting the property. They found the listing online and then showed up to look around, believing it to be unoccupied.
“These fraudulent listings create safety concerns and general inconveniences for everyone involved,” Morrisey said. “We want to make people aware so they can protect themselves. These scammers will steal your time and your money, and could potentially put you in a dangerous situation.”
Morrisey urges prospective renters to use extreme caution when looking to rent a house and offers potential warning signs of fraudulent property listings:
• The price seems too good to be true; it doesn’t fit with market rates for similar, surrounding properties.
• High upfront costs, such as security deposits and other fees.
• Excuses for why a rental unit can’t be shown to prospective tenants, such as “The owner lives out of town” or “The landlord is traveling.”
• Requests for payment before you see the apartment or receive keys.
• No professional online presence or leasing office location.
• Listings and e-mail communication with multiple grammatical mistakes or stilted/broken English.
• Images of the rental unit are only generic interior shots and descriptions are not city-specific.
“Our office will always try to provide you with tips to help you protect yourself," Morrisey said. "We urge people to not to send money or sign a contract without first seeing a property and in situations like this, leave a paper trail by avoiding cash or wire transfer payments."