An in-depth investigative study by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has found online rental home and vacation scams are overwhelmingly widespread.
“The number of scams are so far-reaching that almost 50 percent of persons looking for something to rent online are likely to encounter a rental scam,” said Karla Davis, BBB Mainland B.C. spokesperson.
The BBB says over five million people have been impacted by the scams and which have been appearing across North America since 2016.
In fact, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre found Canadians have lost almost $1.4 million in the last three years to online rental scams.
“Most of the scam reports that we’ve received, the scammer asks for payment through MoneyGram, Western Union, or through a gift card and no legitimate business is accepting payment through these platforms,” said Davis.
According to the BBB study, fraudsters simply copy a photo and description of a real property, post it online with their own contact information and try to get a deposit and first month’s rent from the victim.
The scam artist may communicate via email or text message and may claim to be out of the country and unavailable to show the property.
“Our investigation has found that the masterminds behind these scams are Nigerian crime groups. They set up the bases there and then incorporate romance scam victims from across the world to facilitate the expansion and success for operation of these scams,” said Davis.
The BBB says, on average, victims reported losing around $530, while one-third of victims lost over $1,000.
The scam also frequently appears on vacation rental websites such as Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway.com.
The BBB says the most common signs of the online rental scam are:
- the owner claims to be out of town and you cannot see the unit in person before sending money
- there is a “for sale” sign in the yard
- the alleged owner or property manager wants to be paid through Western Union, MoneyGram or a gift card
- The rent is well below market rate
- The alleged owner wants to communicate with you outside of the rental platform