BBB warns of rental scams involving millions of people

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Whether it’s fake apartment owners or bogus rental listings, savvy scammers are duping people out of thousands of dollars.

The Better Business Bureau issued a warning Tuesday, noting that complaints to its Scam Tracker have increased over the past three years.

“It hurts, but you’ve got to pick up and keep going,” Crystal Housley told News 8 Wednesday.

Housley is out $1,025. A scammer made a bogus Indianapolis home rental listing, copied from a real listing from a real company.

In online chats, the scammers convinced Housley they were legit, and asked her to send a money order deposit in late October.

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Housley added that she even saw the house in person more than once, but it was all a rouse.

“It’s real,” Housley said. “I would say don’t ever feel like you will never be scammed.”

A recent Better Business Bureau study found 43% of online shoppers came across a fake listing, and more than five million people lost money to those scams.

Younger people are most likely to be victims according to the BBB.

If you do want to rent a home, apartment or vacation property, watch for red flags.

“If the price that’s offered is well below the market price, that’s one. Number two, If they ask for some unusual form of payment, usually that’s a wire transfer,” Tim Maniscalo, President and CEO of the BBB of Central Indiana, said. “The reason they do that is wire transfers are almost impossible to track.”

If the owner won’t meet you in person, or if you can’t physically go into the space beforehand, that should raise suspicion. Also, watch for grammar mistakes, because scammers are often overseas.

“Incomplete sentences, ways that we just don’t communicate to one another, so that’s another red flag,” Maniscalo said.

Here are more things potential renters should look for, according to the BBB:

Home and apartment rentals

It is likely a scam if:

  • The owner is 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 money through Western Union, MoneyGram, or a gift card. No legitimate business gets paid this way.
  • The rent advertised is well below market rates.

Those looking for a rental should first conduct an internet search. Copy the photos in the post and use Google Image Search or Tineye.com to check for multiple listings. Also search using an interesting phrase in the description and search for the address of the unit.

If you see the unit in person, check ID and make sure you are dealing with the real property owner or manager.


If you are using a vacation rental platform:

  • Beware of “owners” that want you to get off the platform to communicate or send money.
  • Watch out for fake websites impersonating reputable vacation platforms. Real websites can be copied and created with another name.
  • Research the rental property owner and call them to be sure that they are real.
  • Do a quick internet search. Does the property exist at that address? Does the same photo appear at different locations?
  • Look at reviews carefully. These can be helpful, but note that crooks may create fake reviews.

“I try to look at ratings,” Nicole Marker said. She regularly uses AirBnB and added that she has not come across any scams on the site.

“I try to make sure the rating itself looks legit. If it seems like it’s the same person constantly rating things like that, it seems like it would be a scam to me,” Marker said.

Housley showed News 8 glaring grammatical errors from the scammer she didn’t catch back then.

“Sometimes you can move too fast, you miss something,” Housley said. “Slow down.”

She’s still trying to get her money back.

Maniscalo suggested using a credit card. He said it is one of the safest forms of payment, and allows your money to be tracked and returned to you.

If you are a victim of a rental scam, the BBB offers the following tips: