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Welcome to the season of fresh starts. With the holidays in the rear view and a new year on the horizon, this is a popular time to make important decisions for improving our lives. As Oregon grows in popularity, relocating to a new home is one of the most common changes residents are expected to make in 2020. Recent research reveals it may also be one of the riskiest.

According to an investigative study conducted nationally by the Better Business Bureau, nearly 45% of online consumers encounter a fake listing when searching for a new apartment or home to rent. More than five million consumers fell victim to rental scams in 2019 alone, accounting for a record $37 million in reported losses.

The most common tactic fraudsters use to trick prospective renters is simple. A copied photo and description of a property is posted online along with the scammer’s contact information. The “owner” or “manager” of the bogus property will typically communicate only through text messages or emails before eventually asking for a deposit and the first month’s rent. Once those payments are received, both the scammer and the money disappear.

Targets for these rental fraud scams skew those younger, too. Consumers aged 19-29 years old were found to be 42% more likely to be victims. This is especially true in growing cities where housing prices are on the rise and living options are increasingly scarce.

More than 1,300 reports of rental fraud have been collected by BBB’s Scam Tracker tool dating back to 2016. Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific encourages upcoming renters to get informed so they can stay off the list of victims this year:

• Seeing is believing. Be extra cautious when an alleged owner or property manager asks for money before showing you the property in person. Legitimate operations don’t ask for payment prior to offering a walk-through of the rental space and to answer any questions.

• Rely on your research. A simple internet search can often reveal which listings are real and which ones may be scams. Use tools such as Google Maps or Google Image Search to confirm the address of the property is accurate and looks as advertised.

• Check for ID. When you’re reviewing a rental space in person, don’t be afraid to ask to see a driver’s license or another form of identification. If you know exactly who you’re doing business with, it’s tougher to get taken advantage of.

• Be suspicious of super low rates. If the deposit amount or monthly rate of a rental property seems unusually low, it may be too good to be true. Scammers like to attract potential victims with rates far below those typically seen in the marketplace. The lower the price, the more important it is to find out what’s real and what isn’t before that money is gone.

Additional information and resources for avoiding rental fraud scams in your neighborhood is available by visiting www.BBB.org.

Danielle Kane is the Oregon State Director of the Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific.

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