PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — With the cost of housing on the rise and many people struggling to make ends meet, the FBI says scammers are taking advantage.

The FBI issued a warning Tuesday about a recent spike in rental and real estate scams locally and around the country.

“We have seen a significant increase in the amount of money being lost by people who are desperate for a good deal,” said Joseph Bonavonta, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division. “Scammers are cashing in on renters who need to act quickly for fear of missing out, and it’s costing consumers thousands of dollars, and in some cases, leaving them stranded.”

Bonavolonta urged people to use caution when booking trips and rentals over the summer or listing a property for rent.

Rental Scams

The FBI says the scammer will contact a person advertising a rental property and once the price is agreed upon, they’ll send a check for the deposit. The check will either be for more than the amount required and the scammer asks for the remainder to be returned, or the check is for the right amount and the scammer backs out of the deal and asks for a refund.

Either way, the victim then has access to the funds and believes the check has cleared, according to the FBI, but will later be held responsible by the bank for all losses when the check turns out to be counterfeit.

Real Estate Scams

The FBI also warned about a scam where a legitimate real estate advertisement is copied and reposted or emailed out by the scammer. When a potential victim reaches out about the listing, the scammer will say they’re unable to show the property without payment because they are out of town or out of the country.

Once the victim sends money, the property will then no longer be available.

How to avoid becoming a victim

  • Do not wire funds to strangers
  • Do not put money toward a house or apartment you have not seen
  • Confirm the identity of the landlord by checking public records, or find out who owns the property
  • Do not fill out applications online until you’ve met the property manager
  • Familiarize yourself with local rental prices
  • Check views online and references or previous renters
  • Red Flag: If a potential tenant wants to rent property unseen
  • Red Flag: If a potential renter claims to be out of town and will send a check
  • Red Flag: If a potential landlord says he is out of the country and requests rent sent to a foreign account
  • Avoid accepting overpayment for properties; if you receive a check above a specified amount, return the check and do not deposit it

In 2021, 11,578 people nationwide reported losing more than $350 million to these types of scams, a 64% increase from 2020, according to the FBI.

In Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire in Maine, there were 415 victims who lost more than $13 million last year, a 27% jump from 2020.

The FBI says the overall losses are likely higher since people can be hesitant to report being scammed.

If you believe you’re being scammed, immediately stop all contact. If you already sent money, report any transfer of funds to your bank and file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.