By District Attorney Summer Stephan
Rental housing in San Diego County is a precious commodity and usually comes at premium cost. Now, bad actors are taking advantage of increased demand, by using popular payment apps and COVID-19 social distancing practices to scam trusting consumers and avoid detection.
Rental scams have historically been a problem for consumers and law enforcement. Fraudsters target hopeful renters using fake or hijacked property listings with attractive pricing. In fake listings, scammers post pictures of properties they have no association with, then create a false advertisement to lure renters.
Hijacked property listings involve targeting an actual rental listing and reposting it with the scammer’s e-mail and phone number. When a potential renter shows interest, fraudsters rely on high-pressure sales tactics to create a sense of urgency, requiring a deposit to hold the property. Once the scammer receives the money, they disappear.
In the past, it was easier to identify scams. Scammers required money wires or cash, avoided in-person contact and refused to allow renters to tour a property without first paying a deposit – all red flags that would have derailed the scam. But now, those practices are normal and bad actors are taking advantage of the perfect storm that relies on electronic communication, the ease of electronic transactions such as Venmo or PayPal and avoids in-person interactions.
Here are ways scammers work:
As new methods for conducting business change, it has become more difficult to identify rental scammers, but there are still some telltale signs of fraud. Here are some tips to evade rental scams:
If you were the victim of a rental scam, report the incident to your local police agency or request a San Diego District Attorney Real Estate Fraud Complaint Form at firstname.lastname@example.org. As your District Attorney, I’m committed to increasing communication and accessibility between the DA’s Office and the public. I hope these consumer and public safety tips have been helpful.