NEW YORK – The New York State Department and Division of Consumer Protection recently alerted consumers to real estate and rental scams, in which scammers attempt to steal money from potential tenants when they are looking to rent a house or an apartment. Rental scams are carried out by criminals in a variety of ways, but the goal is the same: to extract as much money as possible from potential tenants.
According to Federal Trade Commission rental fraud data, New Yorkers have reported losses of more than $ 1.7 million in the past three years.
âBuying a rental home or apartment can be a stressful, expensive, and time-consuming process, especially when scammers are actively trying to take advantage of New Yorkers,â Secretary of State Rossana Rosado said. “I encourage New Yorkers looking for rental property to follow some basic advice to avoid wasting their hard-earned money on deceptive practices.”
An emerging real estate scam involves crooks fraudulently impersonating a licensed New York State real estate professional and portraying the real estate professional’s license as their own. The scammer then attempts to “rent” a property that is not theirs to one or more potential tenants – visibly – by running away with security deposits, the first month’s rent, or prepaid rent. . Scammers take legitimate rental offers and repost or advertise them with their own contact information, often at tempting rates and lower than the original listing. Transactions are usually done by phone, text or email, with the scammer asking for a wire transfer, prepaid debit card, payment on an app in cash, or some other non-traceable payment method.
Other scams include bait-and-trade techniques where a different property than what is available is advertised; rentals that are listed with characteristics they don’t really have in order to earn higher rents; and charge potential tenants a background check fee, then steal the money and disappear.
REBNY President James Whelan said, âWe appreciate the efforts of DOS to raise awareness of this issue in order to help protect the interests of consumers and members of the real estate industry. In addition to harming tenants, these reprehensible scams can seriously damage the reputation and livelihoods of honest and hardworking New York realtors, and such behavior has no place in our state.
New York State Association of REALTORSÂ®, Inc. President and CEO Duncan MacKenzie added, âThe New York State Association of REALTORSÂ®, Inc., the Empire State’s largest real estate trading group, congratulates Consumer Protection for publicizing these illegal actions. We join DOS and DCP in urging consumers to be careful in all real estate transactions and to always verify the identity of the people with whom they are engaged. We will share this important alert with our 65,000 members and the many consumers they represent.
To avoid falling victim to a rental scam, New Yorkers should follow these basic tips:
â¢ Verify that the real estate professional you are dealing with is licensed in New York State by visiting the State Department’s Public Licensing Research.
â¢ Validate the identity of the real estate professional by performing an independent online search to obtain the telephone number associated with the professional’s license address. Call the number to verify. You can also request to see a copy of the photo license issued by DOS and set up an in-person or video meeting to compare the ID.
â¢ Confirm that the property you are interested in is legitimately on the market. Many scammers act as representatives for real estate that is not on the market or does not exist.
â¢ Avoid paying advances or down payments before you have had a chance to inspect the premises. Additional information on the types of fees an agent may be authorized to collect can be found here.
â¢ Never give checks or wire money directly to the agent. Agents must be paid directly by their appointed broker. Deposits and fees should never be in the agent’s name.
â¢ Demand reimbursement of your deposit or commission fee if the agent does not finalize the rental or sale of the property. An agent earns a commission when he helps the landlord and the tenant to reach an agreement on all the terms of the rental of the apartment.
â¢ Get everything in writing and get receipts. Never make cash transactions. It is always best to leave a paper trail using a credit card or personal check. Be sure to keep a copy of the payment for your records and keep it in a safe place in case you need it to dispute charges. Real estate professionals are required by law to provide you with copies of all documents relating to the transaction.
â¢ Refrain from providing personal or financial information unless you are absolutely certain you are dealing with a reputable company or agent.
If a consumer is the victim of a rental scam, they are encouraged to file a complaint with the Consumer Protection Division. When the Division receives complaints about real estate agents or brokers, the complaints are referred to the Licensing Services Division, which is responsible for licensing these professionals.
Additional resources for consumers on rental scams are available on the Department of State’s website.