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BBB warns renters to beware of bogus home rentals

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Minnesota and North Dakota is warning renters to be on the lookout for scammers on Craigslist and other online classifieds when searching for a home.

Phony ads for rental properties across the country are cropping up, and are specifically aimed at stealing money from unsuspecting renters.

More than one-third, or 36 million households in the U.S. currently rent, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Many prospective renters find homes through online classifieds.

Sadly, some people who think they have found the perfect home online are being set up by scammers.

"Online classifieds have made finding rental properties much more convenient in recent years and millions of people have had successful transactions on sites like Craigslist," said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. "Unfortunately, though, what is convenient for consumers is often just as convenient for scammers, who have also found a way to make a quick buck by taking advantage of unsuspecting, trusting renters all across the country."

Renters typically fall victim to this scam after responding to an online classified for a rental property. Victims say they were told by the supposed landlord that they needed to wire as much as $1,400 as a deposit and then they would receive the keys to the rental home.

When the victims asked if they could check out the property first, the landlords claimed that they were out of the country and could not show the house.

As a result of this scam, many shocked homeowners have received knocks at their doors by people who were planning to move into their new rental home.

Often, the real homeowners have their house up for sale - not rent - and had pictures posted online that the scammers could steal for their bogus listings.

The BBB advises renters of the following red flags to look out for:

•The deal sounds too good to be true. Scammers will often list a rental for a very low price to lure in victims. Find out how comparable listings are priced, and if the rental comes in suspiciously low, walk away.

•The landlord is located elsewhere and prefers to communicate via e-mail. Scammers might say they have just been relocated out of the country for a job or missionary work - don't believe it.

•The landlord requires a substantial deposit before handing over the keys or even showing the home. Don't pay any money before inspecting the home, inside and out.

•The landlord asks the renter to wire money through wire transfer services such as Western Union or MoneyGram. Money sent via wire transfer service is extremely difficult to retrieve and once the scammers have picked it up; there is little recourse - if any - for getting your money back.

The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to promote through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct; and to instill public confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, protect and assist the general public.

Contact the BBB at or call (651) 699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.