Young Bay Area residents more likely to be victims of multi-million dollar rental scams

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Renters here in the San Francisco Bay Area are more likely to be a victim of renter scams than most other parts of the country, concluded a new report released on Tuesday by the Better Business Bureau.

Stanford-trained economist Igor Popov found 5.2 million victims in the United States of such scams. Those victims lost a total of more than $37, 500,000 with one of out three victims losing more than $1,000.

Those between the ages of 19-29 are 42 percent more likely to be victims. Most victims live in areas of the country where housing is difficult to find and rents are high. San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago have seen a high number of victims along with Denver, Phoenix and Seattle.

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The scams often involve fake listings using photos from legitimate listings, but the listings substitute the contact listing for the scammer in place of the legitimate landlord. The scammers will even copy the home descriptions from the original listings with rents at below market values to lure victims. Victims are told the landlord is out of the country and not available to show the home, but they are welcomed to see the outside. Victims are also advised to ignore the for sale sign out in front, telling them the listing has been pulled from sale, but the realtor has been slow removing the for sale sign.

Others are scammed by being sold bogus directory of rentals. The listings include bogus contact information. The advertised listings did not actually exist or the unit was not actually available for rent.

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A third scam involves tricking people into paying for a credit monitoring service before being allowed to see the rental. Recurring fees are not revealed. The victim signs up for the credit monitoring, but never sees the unit because it really doesn't exist.

Here are red flags to watch out for to avoid being victimized.
--The owner is out of town and the unit is not available for viewing prior to sending money.
--A for sale sign is in the front of the unit
--The scammer asks that money be sent via Western Union, Money Gram or a gift card.

--The rent is well below fair market value
Before signing up for a rental, search the internet to make sure the listing or photos are duplicated elsewhere online for completely different listings.
Use Google Image Search or Tineye.com to check for multiple listings.

Michael Finney interviewed Lori Wilson, the President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau, Golden Gate chapter, to learn more about what you need to watch out for.

Take a look at more stories by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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