How to spot an online rental scam

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The Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection is reporting a recent surge of people falling victim to online rental scams.

It’s received half a dozen complaints in just a couple weeks.

With sky-high prices and relatively low inventory, the search to find that perfect housing rental can sometimes prove nearly impossible — and with scammers lurking online, the search becomes all the more difficult.

“The way it works in general is the scammer may take a real property, for instance, as being for sale. They’ll just copy all of that information from a sale, they’ll paste it onto a page on Craigslist and they’ll change the terminology a little bit,” said Stephen Levins, Office of Consumer Protection executive director.

When unsuspecting people contact the poster, they’re told they can’t see the rental in person. Instead, they’re asked to wire money in exchange for the keys.

Levins says that raises serious red flags.

“They’ll make it seem like they’re renting it and they’ll come up with some ridiculous story as to why they can’t meet in person locally,” he said. “They’ll show pictures of the house that may or may not be real, but the whole point is that it’s a total scam.”

Levins says it’s always a good idea to visit the property in person. Also, avoid wiring money since there’s no recourse in getting it back if something goes wrong

If you’re dealing with someone who says they’re a realtor, you can contact the State Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs to verify if someone is really licensed.

If you’ve been victimized, you’re urged to come forward. The state says it regularly works with online sites to take down fake posts.

“It’s almost like whack-a-mole. As soon as one is shut down, then another one comes up, so it’s hard to keep track of this stuff, and that’s why it’s really important for people to be their own best guardian to make sure they don’t get ripped off,” Levins said.

If you have a consumer concern or are interested in becoming an Action Line volunteer, give us a call at 591-0222 weekdays between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. or send an email to actionline@khon2.com.

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