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Pandemic opportunists scamming renters, says Better Business Bureau

Last Updated Apr 30, 2020 at 8:00 am MST

(iStock photo)

Don’t ever send money via wire service or gift card

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‘Report it, report it, report it,’ rent fraud on the rise amid COVID-19

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — If you don’t send money to people you haven’t met they can’t abscond with it, which is why that is the number one recommendation from those warning against online rent scams.

The Better Business Bureau is urging the public to be aware that common rent scams are on the rise and now available, “with a pandemic twist.”

“This COVID-19 pandemic has created what we call the perfect storm for scammers,” says Karla Laird, manager of public relations at the BBB.

Many scams appear on Craigslist, Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace, now offering virtual tours of would-be rental units. Prospective tenants are told they can’t meet the owners/landlords or property managers because of social and physical distancing rules.

Others are told they can view the property from outside, explains Laird.

“You can just imagine someone standing outside a property trying to look through the window to see what’s inside,” she says, adding virtual tours and video tours cannot be verified and may not represent a real or available suite.

At this point, would-be victims have had a number of opportunities to recognize the scam for what it is, says Laird.

Be on the lookout for suspicious social media profiles (people with few friends, anonymous or stock photos and duplicate postings across many groups or platforms) and rental rates that appear too good to be true.

“Despite what’s going on, rent is pretty standard in certain areas. If you’re seeing something that looks ridiculously reduced for the area, that is a red flag,” says Laird.

Try using services like TinyEye.com, which can find photos online and lead you to similar fake postings, often revealing that scammers are advertising a home that’s not theirs to rent, or the homes are not even located where advertised.

If the red flags to this point haven’t tipped off the victim, the next one should, says the BBB.

“Be especially wary if the alleged owner or property manager wants money through Western Union, MoneyGram, or a gift card,” says the BBB, calling it a classic strategy to lure rental scam victims.

“While we have not received any COVID-19 rental scam reports for our province, we anticipate this could be a new scam trend and are urging consumers to be on the lookout. Last year, more than five million people across North America lost over $500 to rental scams, and with COVID-19 adding further opportunities for scammers, this could lead to a spiral in reports across Canada,” says Laird.

While online marketplaces, including Craigslist, Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace, do try to screen fraudulent postings, many make it through the system.

“Craigslist screens potential rental listings, both before they are posted and after they are active ads on their platform and offers safety tips for those using its site,” according to the BBB.

Kijiji uses algorithms and filters to remove ads that appear fake or fraudulent.

Facebook says it scans for scams and reports of scams are investigated and actions taken. The company’s Marketplace offers tips on how to stay safe using the platform.

“This is a peak time for scams. This is just one of the world’s scams that have been popping up with a COVID-19 twist; all scammers seem to be taking advantage of this COVID-19 pandemic,” Laird warns, adding “Report it, report it, report it,” if you see a scam.

You can find more help on the BBB’s COVID-19 page.