GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — According to the Better Business Bureau and a recent survey by Apartment List, more than 5 million people lost money to rental scams and 43% of online shoppers encountered a bogus listing.

Here is some information about rental scams and how you, the consumer, can avoid them if you see them.

The survey from Apartment List found that 85% of those who encountered bogus listings did not fall for them. For the 5.2 million who did, the median loss was $400, and one in three victims lost more than $1,000.

The most common rental scams are designed to:

  1. Obtain up-front money by collecting a deposit or the first month's rent
  2. Get people to buy online directories of homes supposedly for rent
  3. Trick victims into signing up for credit monitoring

Most of the victims, according to the survey, are younger people. Those within the ages of 19 and 29 are 42% more likely to be victims. The BBB said younger victims report more rental scams to the BBB Scam Tracker than do older consumers.

“While an advertised rental that meets your needs at a great price might be tempting, it just may be a scam,” says Phil Catlett, President of the Better Business Bureau Serving Western Michigan. “Consumers shouldn’t rush into paying upfront fees for renting housing sight-unseen. Instead, take time to verify the details of listings.”

Most victims found the bogus rental listings on listing services like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist, as well as other websites like apartments.com, Zillow, Trulia.com, Realtor.com and Homes.com.

In addition to warning consumers of red flags that may signal apartment or vacation rental scams, the report recommends:

  • Rental unit owners should watermark photos used for rental postings, which will make it more difficult for scammers to copy photos of other properties posted online.
  • Website platforms that list houses, apartments and vacation properties should make extra effort to screen for bogus listings, and they should explore ways to allow consumers to easily report scam listings.
  • Police should encourage victims to report not only to the rental platform, but also to the FTC, BBB or IC3.

If you are a victim of a rental scam:

For more information, click here.

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