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Officials continue to see rental scams rising in Tampa Bay, expert explains what to look out for

Posted at 8:04 AM, Jul 13, 2022

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY — Rental scams are on the rise again the Tampa Bay.

“Some of the most difficult things we’re dealing with right now in the housing market are rentals, rental availability,” said Eric Olsen, Manager of Consumer Protection Services for Hillsborough County.

Experts said that’s why scammers are now working overtime to take advantage of people looking for a place to live.

“There’s all sorts of scam behaviors and if people are not doing their homework they can become victim,” said Olsen.

Locally, officials are seeing that people are getting taken advantage of in-person and online right now.

Sometimes fraudsters will even copy a legitimate ad of a place that someone is trying to rent or one that was recently sold.

“Sometimes they will actually rent a place just for the reason of trying to get other people to rent to them and take a bunch of money from people and then leave,” said Olsen.

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One of the biggest red flags to watch out for is if there’s a property for rent and the price is a lot less than what’s in the area.

“It’s like with any scam, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” said Olsen.

It’s also important to pay attention to how someone is asking for payment. If they want the money in gift cards, that’s a warning sign.

If someone is asking for payment in all cash, that should make you think twice too.

“Before you sign anything and definitely before you pay money you want to make sure you understand completely what you’re getting into,” said Olsen.

Experts told ABC Action News that there are a few ways to protect your money:

  • Do research and look into who you’re doing business with, whether it’s a person or a company.
  • Read the lease closely and look at the terms.
  • Search the property online. If you look up the address and see multiple listings for it, that’s a red flag. If you see a place that’s for sale and for rent, that’s not a good sign either.
Signs of a rental scam

If you think you've fallen victim to a scam, report it.

“If someone feels like they’ve been a victim and they’ve lost money they should contact law enforcement if there’s been a theft,” said Olsen.

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You can also call Hillsborough County Consumer Protection Services for help if you're not sure what to do or if something doesn't seem legitimate. The number is 813-635-8316.

“We’ll always take a call from anyone if they have questions,” said Olsen.

“We try to help guide people depending on what the situation is because if it’s an online scheme versus something face to face, how they respond may be different” he added.