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House hunters beware

By KTVA Alaska 7:45 PM December 26, 2013

Scammers use new tactics to trick renters

ANCHORAGE - As if moving wasn’t stressful enough, scammers are preying on the desperation and frustration of people in the market for apartments and homes. Unfortunately, once a victim realizes what has happened, not much can be done about it.

The average price for a one-bedroom apartment in Anchorage is about $1,055 a month, according to apartmentratings.com. So, imagine the excitement a person searching for a home would feel if they stumbled across a listing for a three-bedroom, three-bathroom, 1,664-square-foot home for just $1,250 a month.

Sounds like a steal, doesn’t it?

It’s not.

“They took the pictures off of public websites and copied the remarks, all of the information, the photos, the exterior and interior photos,” said realtor Leif Harrington. “It looks like a legitimate listing for rent, but it’s not.”

The person who posted the ad for this $1,250 home on Craigslist.org claims to be out of town, but promises to mail the keys to the new renter once they receive the deposit via money order. But according to Herrington — the realtor handling the listed property — the home isn’t available for rent. If it was, it would cost nearly double the price listed on the ad.

It’s just one example of the scams used to trick house hunters into losing money.

“I’m not surprised,” Herrington said. “We get several calls a month from people that are finding homes on Craigslist that are not for rent.”

Criminals looking to take advantage of people in vulnerable situations is nothing new. According to Michelle Tabler with the Better Business Bureau, rental scams are on the rise in Anchorage, especially on websites where anyone can post just about anything without verification — such as Craigslist.org.

“It happened to my daughter in Colorado a few years back,” Tabler said. “Luckily we realized it was a scam right away, but she would’ve been willing to send the money for a deal that sounded too good to be true.”

That in itself was a red flag, Tabler said. The old adage: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, applies.

Another red flag: The person who posted the $1,250 home ad on Craigslist.org claims to be out of town and asks that potential renters wire the deposit through Western Union.

“They say they want the money up front before they’ll send you the key. That’s another red flag,” Tabler said. “You never want to do that.”

Other rental scams will insist you provide your personal information to a specific site or via email.

“You don’t want to give out any personal info, any credit card information and any checking information to anyone you haven’t met,” Tabler warned.

Also beware of any listing that is priced much cheaper than it should be.

Craigslist.org offers tips to help users avoid becoming victims of scams. They urge users to deal locally with people they can meet in person. If users follow this one rule, they’ll avoid 99 percent of scam attempts, the website said.

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