Lookout for Rental Scams During the Pandemic

NBCUniversal, Inc.

The coronavirus pandemic hasn't stopped people from trying to find a place to live, but it has changed how landlords show off rental properties. That's why there's a new warning to look out for rental scams.

"We advise [renters] that some of the procedures are going to be a little bit different," said property manager Paul Northcutt.

He helps manage 450 rentals through his company, Northcutt Properties. All of their potential renters are required to wear a mask and viewings are staggered.

"We spread [visits] out so there's minimal contact," said Northcutt. "Before every and after every viewing we come out and wipe down anything that could possibly be touched by their hands."

Northcutt said people are cautious about their safety, but they have not had anyone cancel appointments because of the pandemic. He also says there was a brief lull in the number of renters but the market is returning to normal.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) says scammers might be taking advantage of the pandemic, using it as a reason to avoid showing properties in person.

"There's quite a bit of activity on Craigslist," said Steve McFarland of the Better Business Bureau. "The scammers are looking to entice you with fake properties and take your money when you put down a deposit."

Usually scammers will show you pictures that they have taken from a legitimate rental property. That's why the BBB says you should always try to see the property in person.

"These scammers are using the COVID excuse," said McFarland. "[look out] if they don't want to show it to you, or have an agent open the door and social distance, [or won't] send a detailed video if they can't show you in person."

Northcutt says he has heard about these scams before. Often they will offer you a discount if you can pay without visiting in person, but he understands that might not be an option because of the virus.

"In the past [not showing me the property] would raise a red flag," said Northcutt. "Now I don't think it would raise a red flag but I wouldn't necessarily take it for granted they are the owner of the property."

Northcutt recommends trying to find out who the owner is or at least driving by the property; even having phone call with the landlord can tell you if its a scam.

"I would not be comfortable spending money without having any type of confirmation outside of electronic communication," said Northcutt. "You can actually interview them, asking interrogating questions about the property, about how they are as a landlord."

If you are unable to view a property in person, ask if they will do a live video tour with you. Otherwise, ask specific questions that only someone who has access to the property would know.

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