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Boston Real Estate Experts Warn of Rise in Online Rental Scams

It’s a common problem that industry experts are frustrated by.

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Real estate experts in Boston continue to warn of scams in the online rental community, especially as many people take to social media to find new listings.

It’s an ongoing search that Brighton resident, Rebecca Cuhna, knows well.

“Sometimes I’m just browsing through apartments and things like that because you just never know, maybe one day you’re going to find that great apartment and be like I have to jump on it,” she explained.

But Cunha said she learned the hard way as a teenager that if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

“The person had posted this beautiful apartment that was right in budget and said they will send me the keys, I seem like a great person, send me the money and they’ll mail me the keys,” she described. “I thought I had hit the jackpot, I thought I found the best place ever, and immediately after I had sent the money, I found out what was going on and I was one of the lucky ones who was able to stop that payment and get my money back. But not a lot of people are that lucky.”

Now, Cunha spends time surfing Facebook rental groups looking for red flags, talking to scammers and exposing them.

“Start asking about places in the area, like is there a Dunkin' Donuts nearby, is there this. People will immediately retreat back because they haven’t been there. They don’t know that area, they don’t know that apartment,” she explained. “I don’t want someone to go through what I went through. I don’t want someone to be a victim and if I can prevent it, even in a small way using what they call as Boomer Book, I’m going to do that."

It’s a common problem that industry experts are also frustrated by.

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Sotheby’s Real Estate Agent, Rich Andreoli, said the scams he sees vary.

“I think the most common is more of a bait-and-switch kind of a situation or someone looking to get your money for a place that either doesn’t exist or that they don’t represent,” he said. “Unfortunately as a result of these scams I spend a lot of time defending what my honest practice is because people are on edge, people are aware that this is going on.”

According to Andreoli, people should pause before sending any type of deposit, especially if a lease is not yet signed.

He suggests looking up the property, seeing it in person and asking a lot of questions during the process.

“They’ll pretend to be the owner, the landlord, the property manager and they’ll get people on the hook and try to get people to send them money,” he said. “If there’s anything that either the agent or the owner can’t answer that should be common knowledge, it’s generally a red flag. If they won’t let you into the property, it’s a no-go. If someone is looking for a deposit up front on a rental, there is absolutely nothing wrong with questioning.”

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