The Consumer Protection Unit of the Delaware Department of Justice warns Delawareans during this peak vacation season to be careful when they are looking for a vacation rental.
The scammers operating rental scam schemes find legitimate rental postings and capture the information and photos of the property, and then list it on Craigslist or other online advertising platforms.
Unsuspecting consumers looking for a deal on a vacation rental find the posting, send a deposit and receive confirmation of their rental only to arrive and find other people in the home, are unable to gain access or are otherwise turned away from the property they believed they had rented.
Rental home scams are also occurring with regard to longer term residential rentals. Ads are placed on sites like Craigslist and marketed at very low monthly rental rates. The scammers steal information from legitimate for-rent postings, and troll neighborhoods for vacant, abandoned and foreclosed homes. Prospective tenants in these scenarios may be shown the property before moving in as the scammers have changed the locks to unlawfully gain access. The scammers will collect a security deposit and first month’s rent and may even provide keys and allow the consumer to move into the property. Typically, only when the true owner or a neighbor notices will the tenant be aware they have been conned. The scammers in these scenarios typically require that monthly rent be paid in cash and will often appear in-person at the residence to collect the rent.
Consumers should be diligent before entering into any type of lease for a rental property or providing any deposit or rental payment by taking these steps:
— Consider working with a licensed realtor or property management company when possible.
— If using an online search engine or website, research whether the property appears on other websites or listing platforms and make contact with the listing agents to determine which is the legitimate advertisement.
— Research who the true owner of the property is by doing a parcel search online: In Delaware, one can search New Castle County properties at nccde.org/parcel/search; Kent County properties at kent400.co.kent.de.us/PropInfo/PIName.htm; and Sussex County properties at sussexcountyde.gov/zoning-and-sales-information.
— Review the posting, advertisement or lease for misspellings and grammatical errors;
— If looking at a rental through an online listing site, consumers should familiarize themselves with the site's policies for detecting and dealing with potentially fraudulent listings.
— Never pay any security deposit or rental payment in cash — always use a check, money order or credit card — and demand a receipt.
— Demand a written lease in advance, that includes the identification and contact information of the landlord, as well as identification of the bank where the security deposit will be held.
— When possible, request a walk-through before agreeing to rent or paying any deposit.
— Talk to neighbors to learn more about the property and the owners — be cautious of properties with a recently deceased owner or foreclosure.
— If a consumer meets the person claiming to be the landlord, they should request to see their credentials, such as a business card or realtor’s license, and identification. Consumers should also make note of the make and model of their car and the license plate number.
Consumers who believe they may have been scammed should contact their local police department and file a report. They can also call the attorney general’s toll-free consumer hotline at 800-220-5424 or email the Consumer Protection Unit of DOJ at firstname.lastname@example.org. If the listing was posted on an online platform, such as Craigslist, the consumer should also file complaints with the online platform and with federal law enforcement at ic3.gov.