In 2022, the FBI received 11,727 real estate/rental scam related complaints with losses of over $396 million, an 86% increase compared to 2020.
In the coming weeks, consumers will receive guidance on how to navigate housing scams when renting, buying a first home, protecting their homes, planning a home improvement project or looking for a moving or storage company.
“In today’s highly competitive housing market, renters are often targeted by scammers who use enticing offers to steal their hard-earned money,” Secretary of State Robert J. Rodriguez said.
“Finding a place to live can be stressful enough without the added worry of being scammed, so I encourage New Yorkers to follow our tips and learn how to spot a potential scam when looking for a new residence.”
Looking for a rental home or apartment can be an expensive and time-consuming process, and as the cost of living continues to increase rental scams are becoming even more prevalent. Rental scams do not just harm renters, they can severely damage the reputations and livelihoods of New York’s honest, hardworking real estate agents.
To prevent a costly mistake, below are key tips on how to identify and avoid rental scams:
Confirm that the rental listing is legitimate and verify the source of the listing. Scammers often post fake listings of properties that are not on the market, or may copy a photo or description of a property from another source to use in their ad. A few minutes of research can prevent you from putting a security deposit on a rental that’s not an option for you.
To verify if a rental is legitimate:
Visit real estate websites and see if the rental you want is also listed in another city or available on another website with a different email address.
Run a reverse image search and see if you can find that listing anywhere on the internet. There are many reputable free online reverse image search platforms. If you find an identical listing with a different email address, that’s a red flag that it’s a scam.
Verify the identity of any Real Estate Professional. Confirm that the real estate professional you’re working with is licensed in New York by following these steps:
Visit the NYS Department of State’s Public License Search database.
Conduct an independent online search and check the phone number associated with their real estate license address. Call the number to verify.
Request to see a copy of the Department of State issued photo license and arrange an in-person or video meeting to compare the ID
Inspect the Premises. Avoid completing background checks, signing a lease agreement or paying any advance fees or deposits before having an opportunity to inspect the premises.
Be suspicious if asked to use payment methods that are untraceable. Scammers generally conduct transactions by phone, text message or email and often ask for a wire transfer, prepaid debit card, payment on a cash-based app or other method of payment that is not traceable. Instead, pay by check or with credit card and get receipts for any payments.
Request everything in writing. It is always better to leave a paper trail. Real estate professionals are required by law to provide you with copies of all instruments relating to the transaction.
Don’t give in to high-pressure sales tactics. Scammers may urge you to rent quickly before someone else gets the property, prompting you to possibly miss an important step in the evaluation process. While the rental market is tough right now with low supply and high demand, remember to be cautious about all the steps involved in a real estate transaction – including carefully reviewing the lease agreement and verifying the identity of those you are engaged with during the rental transaction.
Protect your privacy. Scammers often request personal information and money for background checks, then disappear. Refrain from providing personal information or your social security number unless you are absolutely sure you are dealing with a reputable business or agent.
The Consumer Assistance Helpline 1-800-697-1220 is available Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm, excluding State Holidays, and consumer complaints can be filed at any time at www.dos.ny.gov/consumer-protection.
For other consumer protection tips and consumer alerts, consumers can visit the DCP website or follow DCP on social media via Twitter at @NYSConsumer or Facebook at www.facebook.com/nysconsumer.