Survey: 5M Renters Have Fallen Prey to Online Scams

August 13, 2018

More than 43 percent of renters say they’ve found online rental listings that seemed fraudulent, and more than 5 million say they’ve actually been scammed—sometimes to the tune of thousands of dollars—according to a new report released by rental website ApartmentList.com.

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Renters may be less diligent in researching apartments when feeling the urgency to move, says Igor Popov, chief economist at Apartment List. “There are lots of cases where there’s a lot of urgency in the rental market, especially in some of the really supply-concerned markets that are out there, where you have 10 renters fighting for one available apartment,” Popov told CNBC. “In reality, there’s a lot of urgency, and I think scammers can also sometimes prey on this.”

The survey revealed that the most common scam is a “bait-and-switch” one, where a different property is advertised than the one that is actually available. The scammer is often able to collect a deposit or get a lease signed for the fake property. Another common scam is the “hijacked ad,” where a scammer takes a home that is legitimately for sale and poses as a fake landlord to collect funds. Apartment List also warns of a growing scam in which a listing property that is already leased is posted online. The scammer then attempts to collect application fees or security deposits from an unsuspecting consumer.

“I think what really surprised us was just the prevalence of the different variety of scams out there,” Popov says. “It is surprising how many people have fallen for these types of scams. Over 5.2 million renters out there have either put down an application fee, or a security deposit, or maybe even first month’s rent, usually sight unseen.”

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