Hank Investigates: Phony Rental Ads

GREENFIELD, Mass. (WHDH) — Isn’t this a cute house in Greenfield?  Great windows and a nice fireplace.

When Casey saw it advertised for rent and at a great price, she answered instantly — and she was in luck.

Casey: “If we filled out the application and sent them money, he would make sure we got the keys.”

When the next email said the owner was in Kuala Lumpur, Casey got suspicious and Googled the address.

That led her to Corrine Fitzgerald, whose respected real estate firm was trying to sell the house, not rent it.

Hank: “What did you think when you saw someone was posting this as for rent?”

Corinne Fitzgerald, Realtor: “I was very upset that they were trying to scam somebody.”

Like Casey. Turns out someone simply swiped the photos from the official listing and created a phony ad. Then waited for someone to bite.

Fitzgerald: “It just breaks my heart.”

Local police departments tell us lots of people are being tricked.

Detective Brian O’Connor, Cambridge Police: “Some of them end up sending thousands of dollars.”

On Rogers Street in Cambridge: A Maryland man paid $2,800 to rent an apartment, but the ad was fake.

O’Connor: “I think it’s horrible.”

On Comm Ave, an MIT student sent in $2,000, for nothing.

Money that’s almost impossible to recover.

O’Connor: “The majority of the time the scammers will get away with this only because they’re based outside the US.”

Now if you’re thinking, “I would recognize a phony ad,” we found this big study of for rent ads in major cities, including Boston.

In only four months, researchers detected about 29,000 scam listings. Twenty nine thousand!

O’Connor: “They’re making a lot of money and they’re ruining lives.”

So how do you know what’s a fake?

Experts say:

  • The so called landlord will be out of town
  • The house will be empty
  • The address may not be listed
  • You won’t be allowed to go inside
  • The price will be way below market value
  • You’ll be asked to wire transfer the money

O’Connor: “I don’t see the scamming slowing down; if anything, it’s going to increase.”

The realtor for the Greenfield house added this sign in the window, it warns, “this property is not for rent.”

And Casey found a different house to rent.

Casey: “I’m so glad I did the research.”

If you think this doesn’t apply to you because you don’t need to rent an apartment, you could fall into the same trap when you rent a vacation home.  So be careful there, too.

(Copyright (c) 2017 Sunbeam Television. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)