Rental Housing Scam and Military Families

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The New York State Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection warns of scams targeting military personnel and their families. Because those serving in the military tend to have atypical work schedules, long absences from home and frequent relocations, their families become the targets of scams. In the rush to find a new suitable place to live after receiving orders for a permanent change of station, military personnel and their families can become the target of rental housing scams through fabricated advertisements and nonexistent property listings.

Scammers create and alter listings for properties to rent online through booking websites, like Craigslist. These listings claim to be for houses in reputable neighborhoods, offering an unusually low price and/or military discount. Once the consumer expresses interest in the property, the scammer says that they are unable to meet in person, due to extenuating circumstances, for example, participating in a humanitarian mission overseas.

The scammer insists that the consumer can just wire the money, in exchange for keys to the property. In addition, the scammer may also request the consumer’s social security number and credit card information to perform a background check. The keys may be forged or simply never arrive. If the keys do arrive, the consumer later finds either a nonexistent property or an already occupied house. Because wire transfers are untraceable, these consumers are left without a home, reduced savings and vulnerable to future identity theft.

In honor of the hard work that our military personnel put in every day and Military Consumer Protection Day, the Division of Consumer Protection has these tips to help keep you and your family safe:

  • Meet with your base transportation office- Each branch of the military can offer you relocation options, help you contact a family center in your new residence and guide you to the finance office.

  • Conduct research on your property before buying- Search online to ensure that there are no duplicate listings and look for the name of the deed holder.

  • Look up average rental rates- If the rate offer seems unrealistically cheap, it is probably too good to be true.

  • Avoid upfront fees- Do not send money for a deposit until you have signed a lease and have written documentation or a contract.

  • Refrain from giving out your social security number- Ask to use another type of identification instead and only provide to others when absolutely necessary.

  • Be suspicious of wire transfers- Ask to use an alternate form of payment that can be traced, especially if the vender refuses to meet you in person and claims to be in a foreign country.

  • Report any fraud or scam incidents- Alert local law enforcement and the advertisement publishers immediately. Complaints can be filed to the Federal Trade Commission or the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center