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Hillsborough County officials warn of scammers targeting renters in Tampa Bay

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Posted at 5:31 AM, Mar 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-16 08:07:29-04

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla.  — With the COVID-19 pandemic renting can be challenging in general, but officials say it’s even more challenging right now because of scammers targeting renters in the community.

“There are scams that are going on out in the community and they aren’t necessarily legitimate listings,” said Eric Olsen, Manager of Consumer Protection Services in Hillsborough County.

Experts say scams are happening through ads people can find on various rental websites.

“People will sometimes try to put up listings to properties they don’t own to try to get someone to pay a deposit, to pay money down. They might even have access to the property because they’ve used a locksmith to gain access to a vacant property unbeknownst to the actual owner,” said Olsen.

Even with a short-term rental, Olsen says before you ever pay any money, you should do some background research to verify if the listing is accurate. He says it’s important to find out who the landlord is, and if possible, go look at the property in person first.

“Some of the telltale signs to look out for are people focusing on only the money, trying to get people to sign without looking, so the sight unseen type of advertisement is one of the biggest red flags. If somebody wants you to put a deposit down and you haven’t even got to look at the location that you’re going to rent, that’s a big red flag. You always want to look at things, preview them, test drive them if you will, before you buy,” said Olsen.

Experts say if you go through a realtor or listing agency, that’s usually a safer bet, but you should always do your research first on any property.