If you’ve managed to avoid falling prey to a rental scam, it could be a minor inconvenience. After all, you’ve spent so much time looking! You think you’ve found the right place for you, only to find out you have to keep on digging.
But if you weren’t so lucky and have ended up as the victim of a rental scam, it could straight up drain your bank account. That’s why knowing what to do when you spot a rental scam is vital.
In this article, we’ll talk about what steps you can take to report a scam properly and what sort of information the authorities will likely need from you to open a case.
Step One: Contact Your Local Authorities
Use the local non-emergency number for your city to contact the police in your area by phone. They’ll put you in contact with the proper channels to get the ball rolling. For example, if you’re looking for apartments in Los Angeles and find a shady listing, you could contact 1-877-275-5273; all cities should provide such a toll-free number.
Or you can contact the State Consumer Protection Office and get in touch with a local fraud investigator there.?Even if you’re dubious that they can help, get in touch with your local authorities. Filing a report is often the most impactful way you can get your money back.
If you’re the first to report it, they may be able to apprehend the person so you can prosecute, as well as stop it from happening to someone else. If they already have a case open against the person(s), you could provide valuable information that helps contribute to putting them behind bars.
Step Two: Contact the Listing Website
If you found the listing through an online ad, contact the publisher. Many online apartment finders thoroughly vet their listings to ensure only legitimate apartment rental companies list through them. However, other online sites put people in contact with landlords (like Craigslist, for instance) whose protocols aren’t quite strict.
Usually, these online publishers will do everything they can to work with you and law enforcement to catch scammers. If the site doesn’t already have a designated link for reporting fraudulent transactions, click on their contact link and reach out by phone or email.
Step Three: Get the Feds Involved
Even if you’ve reported the incident to your local authorities, involving the Federal Trade Commission either online or by phone at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). You can also contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center online for help.
The Federal Trade Commission specializes in protecting consumers from fraud, particularly rental scams, identity theft, etc. The Internet Crime Complaint Center works with the FBI specifically to apprehend and prosecute those who commit crimes via the internet, including rental scams if you were targeted online.
Both organizations have jurisdiction within the US, so if you think the scam you’ve encountered may have originated internationally, reach out to econsumer.gov for assistance.
It’s the next step on the road to (hopefully) getting your money back, bringing the scammers to justice and ensuring they don’t victimize anyone else.
What the Authorities Will Need from You…
When you reach out to law enforcement on any level, it pays to have your ducks in a row to move the process along. As a rule of thumb, there are specific things you’ll need to provide:
1. The victim’s name, address, phone, and email
Whether you’re reporting the incident on your behalf or on behalf of a friend or family member who’s been scammed, they’ll need a thorough and accurate point of contact for the victim.
2. Financial transaction information?
Provide adequate transaction information for reference, i.e., the transaction amount, date, account information, and who received the payment.
3. Any information you have on the scammer
Provide any names, addresses, phone numbers or email addresses, and website information you have for them. If possible, an IP address would be helpful too.
4. Specifics of the circumstances under which you were victimized.
Try to present as much detail as possible when you report to the authorities. Explain how you found the listing, who you spoke to first, and the facts surrounding your transactions. Dates and times of communications, copies of email correspondences, voicemail messages, and specifics about conversations you may have had will be a big help.
5. Any other information you have that you think may help
If there are any other details you can think of that may be relevant to the investigation, don’t hesitate to provide them.
In most cases, scammers will do whatever they can to avoid meeting in person. If this is true in your case, think carefully, and be sure to let them know if there’s anything that stands out about your phone communications, email correspondences, etc.
Even something as small as background noise over a phone call can prove to be a vital piece of information.
Take Care When Apartment Hunting
Unfortunately, rental scams occur every day. Luckily, we can do plenty of things to protect ourselves against them (it’s easier than you might think!).
If you think you’ve spotted a rental scam, don’t be afraid to reach out for help on your behalf or behalf of a friend or loved one. Not only will you save yourself a lot of pain and suffering, but you’ll also help others to avoid falling into the trap too.