Dear Reader,

Interns and students with stars in their eyes come here looking to embark on an exciting journey.  They envision their time in the DC area as their launching pad into a meaningful and enriching career, making a difference in our world.

Many are unfamiliar with the area. They come from different states or countries and spend a great deal of time searching online for the perfect apartment or place to stay before they arrive.

This is where scammers swoop in. These crooks post fake but convincing listings on sites like Facebook Marketplace.  The listings look real, perfect, really, and show videos and pictures of what looks like real apartments. They create profiles online that help them look like real people with real property to rent.  They offer video walk-throughs and are quick to communicate with would-be renters. They make all the right moves, such as asking for references and following up with those references, discussing upfront terms of a lease or rental agreement, and sending tenant agreements for review.

These scam artists are good.  They hook you, then ask for a signature on a lease agreement and a wire transfer of a few thousand dollars to cover the deposit and first month’s rent.

Then they disappear, never to be heard of again.

Picture this: your child, fresh out of college, heads to Washington.  You, the concerned parents, have helped make all the arrangements, having helped secure a safe place to stay in an apartment that almost seems too perfect.

They get off the plane, grab their significant amount of luggage, hail an Uber, and head off to their new place.  They start to get concerned because their landlord isn’t answering the phone.  Then they get to the address of what should be their new place, only to find it wasn’t for rent to begin with.  They call the attorney posted on the lease agreement and find that the law office has nothing to do with the supposed renter and that the whole thing was a scam.

Now your child is effectively homeless, down three grand, and off to a rocky start at best on their new adventure.

DC Assistant Attorney Emily Bard says, “Once the money is gone, it’s just gone.” There is virtually no way to get it back or to follow its trail.  Unfortunately, rental scams like this are on the rise, and the target is most often students and interns.

Consumer losses have been reported for as low as $500 for an application fee, up to and over $5,000 for a security deposit and first month’s rent.

The best advice is renter beware.  These scammers are professionals. They often steal real photos from other listed properties and advertise them with their contact information.  Some use fantom rentals with photos of property that’s not located at the supposed address. They often steal the names of real people to make the scam seem legit.

There is no substitute for picking up the phone and meeting face-to-face, but if this isn’t an option…

  1. Make sure the listing is comparable to other listings in the area.
  2. Use a search engine to search the listing address and see if it comes up on other sites with different contact information.
  3. See if your area requires landlords to be licensed, and if so, check to see if the landlord’s license is valid.
  4. Always pay with a personal check or credit card instead of wiring money or using a prepaid card. This gives you the most protection if something goes wrong.
  5. Think twice before posting online that you’re looking for an apartment; this opens the door for scammers to find you.

Consumer protection offices can help in some situations.  If you or someone you care about is ever the victim of a scam.  File a complaint. You will be assigned an investigator who will do what they can to help you get your money back.  But even if they can’t, your complaint will spotlight the no-good scammers and help stop them from victimizing someone else.

Well, folks, that’s all for now. Be safe, be vigilant, and if you ever need help with a personal injury claim, please don’t hesitate to call 301-949-1515 or 703-761-4343.

Until next time, please be safe, and NEVER text while driving!

Paul Samakow

Attorney Paul Samakow

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