DELAWARE - The Consumer Protection Unit of the Delaware Department of Justice is warning state residents during this peak vacation season to be careful when they are looking for a vacation rental.
Officials say that the scammers operating rental scam schemes find legitimate rental postings and capture the information and photos of the property, and then list it on Craigslist or other online advertising platforms.
Unsuspecting consumers looking for a good deal on a vacation rental find the fake posting, send a deposit and receive confirmation of their rental only to get there and find other people in the home, are not able to get in, or are otherwise turned away from the property they believed they had rented.
Rental home scams are also happening with regard to longer term home rentals. Again ads are placed on sites like Craigslist and marketed at very low monthly rental rates. The scammers reportedly take information from legitimate for-rent postings and troll neighborhoods for empty, abandoned and foreclosed homes.
Prospective tenants in these scenarios may be shown the property before moving in as the scammers have changed the locks to unlawfully get in. The scammers will collect a security deposit and first month's rent, and may even get keys and let the consumer move into the property. Typically, only when the true owner or a neighbor notices, will the tenant learn they have been conned.
The scammers in these scenarios usually make the tenant pay monthly rent in cash and will often show up in person at the home to collect the rent. All consumers are told to be diligent before going into any type of lease for a rental property or providing any deposit or rental payment by taking these steps first:
• Consider working with a licensed realtor or property management company when possible;
• If using an online search engine or website, research whether the property shows up on other websites or listing platforms and call the listing agents to find out which is the legitimate advertisement;
• Research who the true owner of the property is by doing a parcel search online: In Delaware, one can search New Castle County properties here; Kent County properties here, and Sussex County properties here.
• Carefully review the posting, advertisement or lease for misspellings and grammatical errors;
• If you are looking at a rental through an online listing site, you should get to know the site's policies for detecting and dealing with potentially fraudulent listings;
• Never pay any security deposit or rental payment in cash—always use a check, money order or credit card—and demand a receipt;
• Demand a written lease in advance, that includes the identification and contact information of the landlord, along with identification of the bank where your security deposit will be held;
• When possible, ask for a walk-through before agreeing to rent or paying any deposit;
• Talk to neighbors to learn more about the property and the owners—be cautious of properties with a recently deceased owner or foreclosure;
• If you meet the person claiming to be the landlord, request to see their credentials, such as a business card or realtor's license, and identification; you should also make note of the make and model of their car and the license plate number.
Consumers who think that they may have been scammed are told to call their local police department and file a report. People can also call the Attorney General's toll-free Consumer Hotline at 1-800-220-5424 or email the Consumer Protection Unit of DOJ at email@example.com. If the listing was posted on an online platform like Craigslist, the consumer should also file complaints with the online platform and with federal law enforcement here.