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Scammers Target Online Rental Ads, Undercut Price With Fake Ad

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A fabulous loft downtown, a home in the suburbs, a luxury townhouse on the slopes – what do these locations all have in common?

They're all part of rental scams on the internet.

"They have listed this place and people fall for it because everyone wants to get a good deal in the rental market," said Alex Deacon.

Deacon manages hundreds of rental properties in the Pittsburgh area.

And he's seen plenty of people ripped off by rental ads, hijacked by scammers.

He says legitimate property owners or managers list places on Craigslist, then scammers see them and post phony ads, undercutting the price.

The scammers put his house in McKees Rocks on the market for just $450 per month – and renters fell for it. The real ad placed it at $700.

"They'll call us and say, 'hey, where's our security deposit?'" he said. "And we are like, 'who are you? Why are you calling us?' Because we have no idea who you are."

And at one of Deacon's other properties in McKeesport, this is what happened to a family after they answered a fake ad online:

"They literally moved in," he said. "The owner said, 'Send me the money, I'm out of the country drill the locks and I'll pay for the lock change and you can go ahead and move in.'"

The renters had signed a lease and everything – too bad for them it was a total scam.

"So one of my leasing agents goes over to show it thinking he's gonna show a vacant apartment and there was somebody living there," Deacon said. "It was quite a surprise."

Here are some red flags that your rental may be a fake:

  • The owner tells you to wire the money.
  • They want a security deposit before meeting.
  • They say they're out of the country.

"We are seeing it more and more over the past year," said FBI special agent Keith Mularski.

Mularski with the FBI says this type of internet fraud is being perpetrated on consumers every day.

"Absolutely, the fraudsters they're very successful," he said. "If they weren't, they wouldn't be doing it."

When I went on Craigslist, it was easy to find a rental that seemed too good to be true. A luxury four-bedroom townhouse at Seven Springs for just $200 per night.

When we inquired about renting it, we got an email saying to send $400 via Paypal – we even got a signed rental agreement.

But when we asked to see the place first, we got this response in an email: "I did not get payment yet, kindly send me the payment confirmation then the balance will be paid upon arrival where am going to hand over keys to you."

The bad grammar alone was enough to set off alarm bells.

"And you're a lot less likely to be scammed if you're going to meet and go to the property as opposed to just sending money sight unseen," Mularski said.

To report a scam:

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