Beware of house rental scams

HOUSTON - Landlords are raking in the cash as rental rates have gone up almost 17 percent, but thieves are trying to grab some of that cash, too.

Crooks are using computers and counting on people needing to move as soon as possible.

Jerry Barnard listed his home for rent on the Houston Association of Realtors' website, asking for $1,450 per month for his two-story, three-bedroom home with a fireplace, granite countertops and new appliances.

"I received an email from a lady asking me if I was the owner of the property," Barnard said.

The prospective renter was responding to an ad she saw on Craigslist, which Barnard didn't create.

"I logged onto Craigslist … there it was," Barnard said. "Exact same listing that's on the Houston-area Realtors' site with an extension of a number to text if you're interested," he said.

KPRC Local 2 texted that number, which has a New York area code. The person who replied asked for a $550 deposit and said a time to see the home could be arranged. We didn't fall for it, but Barnard wondered how many people have.

"How many were biting on this, on rental properties, and the owners knew nothing about it?" Barnard asked.

Versions of this scam have been going on for a while. Realtors said the worst of it happened during the 2008 recession, when families lost their homes and needed a place to stay.

"We saw a lot of it then and, unfortunately, it's rearing its ugly head again," said Danny Frank, chairman-elect of the Houston Association of Realtors.

Renters who don't want to get caught up in the scam should verify the owner of the property before handing over any money. Renters should also ask the owner for identification, to verify they are who they say they are, and get a walk-through of the home before signing anything.

Barnard filed a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center and Craigslist so it will remove the fraudulent ad.

These criminals can be difficult to catch because they will never meet you in person.

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