Beware: An old rental scam is popping up again, but with better technology

LAKEWOOD, OH (WOIO) - An old scam is popping up again, according to local realtors. What's most disturbing is how good criminals have gotten at using technology to steal your money and your personal information.

Realtor Christine Merry manages Howard Hanna Real Estate's Lakewood office. She says the way the scam works is that con artists pretend to own houses that legitimate real estate agents list for sale.

The scammers offer the property for rent at a great price, and then use technology to make themselves look legit.

"They can take a local phone number and mimic it so that it looks whenever they are calling you back, they are actually calling from a 440 or 216 phone number. They can take Gmail or a free email address that looks like it is actually coming from a name that is similar to the property owner's name," described Merry.

When the potential renter asks to see the property, the scammer comes up with a story explaining why they can't let you in.

"We've heard things from I'm taking care of my sick grandma in Florida, to I'm in the Peace Corps, and I am fighting disease in Africa," said Merry.

The con artist tells the person to just take a look from the outside peeking in.

Many victims then send the scammers money for a deposit - never to see that cash again.

One of the ways that real estate agents are fighting back against scammers is that they are putting signs in the windows of properties that they have listed, to let people know that the property is not for rent. The sign faces outward and says, "This house is not being offered for rent. Please do not wire money to anyone for a deposit."

Gloria Prideman and M.J. Tigert nearly fell victim to the scam when they were looking for a town home in Cleveland to rent.

"It seemed fishy from the start because it was very cheap. The pictures were very nice but he also wasn't giving us a lot of information," described Prideman, "This guy just kept asking us to send us the money, and he'll mail the keys, and we were like, 'That's ridiculous.'"

Luckily, Prideman and Tigert did the right thing. They refused to pay a deposit without seeing the inside of the rental. They also didn't give out any of their personal information.

Experts say you should be able to tour a property before giving out personal information.

If you have a question about a property, you can always call a real estate agent to check and see if a listing is legit.

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