Floridians are being victimized by scammers who falsely list lots or homes online at low prices to make some quick cash.
Even people who aren’t renting, buying or selling can be victimized if a scammer fraudulently lists their property for sale, tangling them up in litigation to prove their land or home truly belongs to them.
While Florida is the third most populous state, it is the second most defrauded state behind only California, according to the FBI. Data shows there has been a steady increase in real estate or rental scam losses reported by victims over the last three years.
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Florida real estate agents say that although they have a number of safeguards in place to ensure listings are real and verifiable, “scammers are getting smarter.”
How to avoid land or rental scams
Rent and land scams are rampant in parts of the country with hot housing or rental markets, according to the FBI. Data shows that places like Florida and Texas, which have grown significantly in population over the past couple of years, are seeing an increase in fraudulent and predatory listings.
Frequently, people moving from another area will be less familiar with pricing or availability, and find themselves tangled up in a scam and without a place to live.
“We have seen a significant increase in the amount of money being lost by people who are desperate for a good deal. Scammers are cashing in on renters who need to act quickly for fear of missing out, and it’s costing consumers thousands of dollars, and in some cases, leaving them stranded,” said Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston DivisionJoseph R. Bonavolonta in a June press relespanse.
But how can you avoid being taken advantage of?
Here are some quick tips on how to spot or avoid a land or rental scam, per the FBI Boston division:
- 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 find yourself the target or victim of a rental scam, stop all contact immediately, and if you have already sent money, it is extremely important to report any transfer of funds to your financial institution and file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.