Watch out for these red flags when seeking help with a rental home: Internet Scambusters #969
Struggling to get help with your rental home payments? Or enchanted by a newly discovered low-rent home that seems almost too good to be true?
Either way, scammers have you firmly in their sights, as we warn in this week's issue.
However, using our tips for both scenarios, you can steer clear of the crooks.
Let's get started…
The Scam-Free Way to Solve Your Rental Home Challenges
Many people are struggling with mortgage and rental payments these days. And, despite a freeze on evictions and some financial aid, troubled renters and buyers apparently are falling for phony offers of help in ever increasing numbers.
Some of the scammers are posing as charitable or financial assistance organizations. The end result of their crime is to deepen the misery of those people who are already struggling, either by landing them with more debt or stealing their personal information for identity theft -- sometimes both.
"No matter what kind of help they promise, these scammers always tell you to give them money up front or hand over your personal information first. But those are dead giveaways that it's a scam," says a new consumer-watch bulletin.
They approach victims by phone, email, text, fake websites, and even door-to-door callers. In some cases, they offer money to help with rent and utility bills, but in others they pretend to be landlords and threaten victims with eviction unless they make an immediate payment.
Using a different approach, other scammers offer rental homes at rock-bottom rates, luring those who are struggling in their present home to chase after these non-existent rentals, parting with yet more money in the form of advance rent.
For those in need of financial assistance with rent, it's worthwhile discussing this with your landlord to try to come to some staging payment arrangements. In addition, follow these key tips:
- Free help is available, so don't pay up front for it. For example, try the low-income assistance organization LawHelp.org.
- Be very wary of unsolicited offers of help. They're usually scammers or loan sharks or attach unacceptable conditions to any aid they give.
- Do your own research for sources of potential help, but make sure you thoroughly check out names you discover on the Internet.
- Visit your state office of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). You'll find links to your state here.
Many states have their own emergency rental assistance funds. Conduct an online search on the name of your state plus "emergency rental assistance program."
- Know your rights on eviction. The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently extended its moratorium of evictions for certain groups to end July. Some states also have their own rules.
A good source of information in a single place on this issue is a regularly updated page run by the consumer law organization NOLO: Emergency Bans on Evictions and Other Tenant Protections Related to Coronavirus.
Another is your local state and county court system. You can track them down at USA.gov's page: State, County, and Municipal Courts.
Avoid Rental Listing Scams
For those searching for a home to rent, here are some red flags to steer you away from scams in which the crook pretends to be offering a home he or she doesn't own:
- The rent is way lower than that for similar properties.
- Ads and messages use poor grammar and spelling errors. A common clue is overuse of initial capital letters.
- The "agent" offering the property refuses to let you speak to the owner, often making excuses about their non-availability.
- You're asked to sign a rental agreement before you even get to view the home. Never do this.
- You're charged a fee to view the home.
- The agent makes an excuse about why you can't view the inside of a home and asks you to make your decision on a simple outside viewing.
- You're pressured to make a fast decision, usually on the spot.
Whether you're struggling with an existing rental or viewing a new one, make sure you have a clear understanding of the rental agreement. Would-be renters should never hand over any money until you've checked out the agent or owners and read the lease.
Also, keep records of the whole process in case it ends up in the courts.
It's typical of the mindset of rental home scammers that they choose to target those who are already in trouble or in the most need. They don't care about you; they just want your money.
Alert of the Week
Don't be fooled by an email currently doing the rounds, seeming to confirm that you paid for Internet security protection from leading provider McAfee.
It's poorly executed, using a simple Gmail address, but it could still trick some people because the message carries an activation code and "receipt" for the automatic payment of $400, supposedly a reduction on your previous $500 cover for three years.
The true purpose of the scam is the offer of an opportunity to cancel your subscription via a helpline from where you'll be directed to fill in a cancelation form. This, of course, is designed to harvest information about your bank account, specifically your debit card details.
If you're a McAfee subscriber, or thinking of becoming one, avoiding this scam is as simple as starting your quest at Mcafee.com.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.