Rental scam popping up in Wichita again

05/07/2013 4:20 PM

05/07/2013 4:20 PM

Local Realtors are reporting that they are seeing a familiar rental scam arise again.

The scam involves listing a home for rent at a below-market rate and requesting some form of immediate payment, usually through a wire transfer or money order, before the potential renter can even see the house.

Tim Holt, broker and owner of Golden Realtors, said that one of his agents was asked on Monday to show a new house that the person had seen listed for rent on the Craigslist website.

The problem is, Holt said, the house was never listed by the owner or the Realtor on that website.

“That’s the first time it’s happened in a new home area,” Holt said. “They hadn’t sent the money yet, and our agent told them not to.”

Sharon Werner, chief attorney of the consumer fraud division of the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office, said it’s a scam that’s at least at couple of years old. She said the con seemed especially popular last spring, between April and June.

“It’s not active right now,” Werner said, adding that what Realtors are seeing now may be the precursor to her office fielding calls on the re-emergence of the scam in a week or two.

The scam typically starts with the posting of a house for rent on a website such as Craigslist. The rental rate is typically much lower than what a similar, legitimate house would rent for. And the house that’s supposedly being rented is often, in reality, a house that is for sale – and posted as such on other websites, said Werner and Tessa Hultz, president and CEO of the Wichita Area Association of Realtors.

Hultz said even she was initially taken in by a false rental listing a few years ago when she came to Wichita to take the Realtors job. She wasn’t victimized by the scam, however, because she had a Realtor in Wichita checking out rental homes for her. “When you’re living in another city, it’s hard to tell,” Hultz said.

Where people fall victim to the scams is when the story sounds credible: such as being told the owner of the rental house is out of the country and originally had the house up for sale, but changed his mind and now wants to rent it. The scam is perpetrated when the person listing the house requests a deposit via a wire transfer or the completion of a renter-qualification form that asks for personal information that can be used for identity theft.

The red flags in such deals are the low-rental rates, out-of-town owners, and payments of deposits through a wire transfer, Werner said.

“It really comes back to this: If it sounds too good to be true, it is,” she said.

Such scams are difficult to investigate and prosecute, Werner said, because the offenders are generally outside the state and the country. “Our best offense is education,” she said.

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