FBI Warns of Increase in Housing Scams

Federal authorities are urging caution, as the current demand in the housing market makes it easier for prospective buyers and renters to become victims of scammers

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If you're looking for a place to rent or buy, federal authorities say to beware of scammers.

The FBI issued a warning Tuesday explaining that the current demand in the housing market makes it easier for people to become victims of this crime.



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One couple who moved to Boston from Europe found out the place they thought they had rented was never paid for. Someone posing as a real estate agent got away with their money.

"It's a lot of money for a stupid thing," said Joana Ferreira.

Ferreira and her partner, Chris Fell, were excited to move to the U.S. from Europe and start a post-doctoral program at Harvard and MIT.

They went on Facebook to search for a short-term rental. One apartment in the North End caught their eye, so they contacted the listed agent.

Ferreira said she verified the person's name through the company's website in the ad, and was sent what looked like real certificates.

"We started messaging in February, and then I would send one month's rent and a deposit, which took a long time to accept," said Ferreira.

Then, the supposed real estate agent made an issue about her not being present in Boston at the time, so he demanded another month's rent. At first, she declined, but after noticing how hard it was to find a place in Boston, she relented.

The couple then boarded a plane in Vienna, Austria, and flew to Boston on May 13.

"We came here to the apartment and took all of our bags out of the taxi, and we had like eight bags with us, all set up on the sidewalk, just to realize there was no one here," said Fell.

The real landlord showed up and said she had never heard of the real estate agent or the leasing company Ferreira and Fell were referring to.

"So, at that point, we realized it was all a scam," he said.

"We're in a market right now where inventory in the rental market, as well as the home market, is so low, noted Re/Max Distinct Advantage Massachusetts Broker and Owner Josepha Jowdy.

Jowdy said desperate people are the easiest targets. She suggests looking up real estate agents on public data bases, trying to verify their license, and never sending money to someone you're not sure of.

The FBI issued similar warnings Tuesday, saying rental and home buying scams in the region were up 27% in 2021 compared to the previous year.

"In hindsight, that was maybe a mistake," admitted Fell. "We never spoke to him on the phone. It was always by message or email."

"One thing I regret is that I could've suggested that 'I have a friend there that's going to visit the place' and see how the person would react," said Ferreira.

The FBI also noted that there were 290 of these scams reported last year in Massachusetts alone.

Fell and Ferreira ended up losing $4,000 to the scam.

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