Housing

New Englanders Lost $13M to Rental and Real Estate Scams in 2021, FBI Says

The FBI says as we've seen rents and housing prices increase, they've also seen a spike in reports of rental and real estate scams

A "for rent" sign
NBC10 Boston

The FBI Boston Division is warning that as rents, home prices and inflation surge so does the risk of rental and real estate scams.

The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Boston is $3,887, according to Rent.com, up 9% from last year. And the FBI says as we've seen rent increases they've also seen a spike in reports of rental scams.

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According to the FBI, a common form of this scam involves counterfeit checks. In these cases, a scammer may respond to an advertisement for a rental property. After reaching out and agreeing on a rental price, the scammer may forward a check for the deposit over the agreed amount, and ask for the remainder to be returned, or a check for the set amount, but later back out of the deal. Banks often do not put holds on checks, so the victim believes the deal has gone through, and is ultimately left responsible for any losses.

Another common scam involves scammer posting fake advertisements for rental properties, the FBI warning explained. These are often duplicates of actual advertisements and may include a broker's real name with fake contact information. The scammer then waits to be contacted by a potential victim and requests money as a deposit, usually sight unseen. After the money is sent, the property becomes "unavailable."

The FBI noted one recent case in Rhode Island where the victim, who had wired $21,756 for a year-long rental, arrived at the property he believed he rented and was greeted by the actual owner, who said they had never placed an ad.

The FBI says that in 2021, nationwide 11,578 reported losing a total of $350,328,166 due to these types of scams, which is a 64% increase from last year. The FBI Boston Division, which covers Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, has seen 415 victims and $13,424,269 lost - a 27% increase. The breakdown by state is as follows:

  • 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 FBI says actual losses may be much higher because victims are may be hesitant or embarrassed to report a scam.

Here are some tips from the FBI to avoid becoming a victim:

  • Do not wire funds to people you do not know.
  • Do not put money towards a house or apartment you have not seen.
  • Confirm the identity of the landlord by researching public records to find out who owns the property you are seeking to rent or purchase.
  • Do not fill out applications online until you have met directly with the property manager.
  • Know local rental prices.
  • Look for online reviews, references, and testimonials from past inhabitants.
  • Be wary if a potential tenant wants to rent property sight unseen.
  • Be wary if a potential renter says they are out of town and will send you a cashiers’ check.
  • Be wary if a potential landlord says he is out of the country and wants the rent sent to a foreign account.
  • Do not accept overpayment for properties. If you receive a check for more than the specified amount, return it. Do not deposit it.

If you believe you are the victim of a scam you should report it to your financial institution and file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.

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