FBI warns of rental and real estate scams that defraud Massachusetts residents of at least $9 million, Rhode Islanders $1.4 million

Boston, MA – As rents, home prices and inflation soar in today’s highly competitive real estate market, Boston’s FBI Division is warning the public of the risk of property scams. rentals and the need to be careful when viewing and responding to rental properties and real estate online.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in the amount of money lost by people desperate for a bargain. Scammers take advantage of renters who need to act quickly for fear of missing out, and it’s costing consumers thousands of dollars and , in some cases leaves them stranded,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division. people are looking to book last-minute summer getaways.”

Rental scams occur when the victim advertises a rental property and is contacted by an interested party. Once the rental price has been agreed, the scammer sends the victim a check corresponding to the deposit for the rental property. The check must cover housing costs and is either written in excess of the required amount, with the scammer asking for the remainder to be refunded, or the check is written for the correct amount, but the scammer backs out of the rental agreement. and request a refund. Since banks usually do not hold funds, the victim has immediate access to them and thinks the check has been cashed. In the end, the check turns out to be a fake and the victim is held liable by the bank for all losses.

Another type of scam concerns properties advertised online. The scammer duplicates posts from legitimate real estate websites and reposts these ads, after modifying them. Often, scammers use the broker’s real name to create a fake email, which lends more legitimacy to the fraud. When the victim sends an email through the classified ad website asking for information about the house, they receive a response from someone claiming to be the owner. The “owner” claims he is unable to show the property without payment because he is either out of town or out of the country. If the victim wants to rent the house, they are asked to send money and soon after the property is no longer available.

According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), which provides a means for the public to report Internet-facilitated crimes, there has been a steady increase in losses reported by victims of real estate/rental scams over the past three last years.

Nationally, in 2021, 11,578 people reported losing $350,328,166 to these types of scams, which is a 64% increase from the previous year. Here in the Boston Division, which includes all of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, 415 victims reported losses of $13,424,269, an increase of 27%.

-42 victims in Maine lost $489,309
-290 victims in Massachusetts lost $8,944,041
-41 victims in New Hampshire lost $2,576,210
-42 victims in Rhode Island lost $1,414,709

The actual losses are likely much higher because many people are reluctant to report that they have been scammed. In the area of ​​responsibility of the FBI’s Boston division, several incidents have been reported in recent months, including:

An Idaho man was moving to Rhode Island and answered a Craigslist ad for a one-year rental in Narragansett, RI. After obtaining an advance of $21,756 from his employer, he transferred this money to the “owner” and set a schedule to access the residence. Before the agreed time for the meeting, the man received a text message canceling the meeting because the “owner” was in Chicago to take care of his sick son. The man went to the residence and was greeted by the real owner who told him it was not a rental property and that he had not advertised online.

A man from East Providence, RI responded to an online ad for an apartment in Cambridge, MA, demanding first and last month’s rent, plus a security deposit. The man was told he would not be given the keys and would not be allowed into the apartment until the check for $6,000 had cleared the bank. As soon as this happened, he made an appointment to collect the apartment keys, but no one answered the door. After calling and texting the alleged owner, the victim received a text that read “you got scammed, don’t text this phone again.”

A University of Rhode Island student responded to an online ad on Facebook Marketplace for an apartment in Wakefield, Rhode Island. The student wired $1,800 to secure the place after he was told he wouldn’t be allowed to view the apartment before moving in because the landlord is still on the move. When he showed up to move in, the address he was given was the rental office and he was told there were no units available.

The FBI has some advice on how to avoid becoming a victim:

-Do not transfer funds to people you do not know.
-Do not place money in a house or apartment that you have not seen.
-Confirm the identity of the owner by searching public records to find out who owns the property you are looking to rent or buy.
-Do not complete online applications until you have met directly with the property manager.
-Know the local rental prices.
-Look for online reviews, references and testimonials from former residents.
– Beware if a potential tenant wants to rent a property out of sight.
-Beware if a potential tenant says they are out of town and will send you a cashier’s check.
– Beware if a potential landlord says they are out of the country and want the rent paid into a foreign account.
-Do not accept overpayments for properties. If you receive a check for more than the specified amount, resend it. Don’t put it down.

If you find yourself the target or the victim of a rental scam, stop all contact immediately, and if you have already sent money, it is extremely important to report any transfer of funds to your financial institution and to carry complaint to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.