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Experts offer tips to avoid getting scammed on rent

Scammers are going after young adults
Rent hike
Posted at 5:03 AM, Mar 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-09 06:16:36-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — As the rental market grows more competitive by the minute in West Michigan, scammers are taking advantage.

Lewis Smalligan with Tall Tree Realty and Property Management says he’s seeing more and more prospective renters getting scammed.

“And they're like, well, we sent you the security deposit. And I was like, ``Well, you didn't send it to me,” Smalligan said.

Shock, disappointment and confusion as another prospective renter is scammed into forking over a large sum of money just to secure a spot in West Michigan. Lewis has about 60 properties in the Heritage Hill Neighborhood. It’s an attractive area for prospective renters. In one week, thousands of dollars were scammed on just one of his properties.

“The person had bumped it up to like $1,250 dollars, Smalligan said. “The address was the same, the building pics were the same and they just took all the info up at Zillow.”

Katie Grevious, Communications Specialist with the Better Business Bureau of Greater Western Michigan says scammers in the Grand Rapids area, especially, are preying on young adults fresh out of college and unfamiliar with the market.

“People will immediately pay right away with no questions asked, and then they can just pocket that money, Grevious said.

So what’s the first mistake people often make when trying to rent? Katie says often they see a person willing to send a security deposit without seeing the property or meeting the landlord.

“And then usually the landlord has some sort of an excuse of why they either can't show the house or they're not in town anymore,” Grevious said.

“Maybe they own the property, but they live three hours away and can't make that drive, and that’s a huge red flag.”

The postings will look nearly identical to the legitimate post on Zillow or other rental site. That’s where the extra research will come in handy if the price seems too good to be true- it probably is.

“If you're getting a really really cheap offer and all the other apartment complexes in that neighborhood are $1,000 dollars more, that's a red flag that something might not be right,” Grevious said.

Next steps? You can always double-check if the landlord on the posting does in fact own that property. The property records are free to look at on the county’s website.

“If you're still not sure, go to tracker site, and check out that property type in the address type in the landlord's name, Grevious said.

“See if anybody else has reported being scammed by that person too.”