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State officials warn of real estate scams | Local News | – The Livingston County News

ALBANY — Residents are being alerted to real estate and rental scams by the New York State Department of State and the Division of Consumer Protection.

The scammers work to steal prospective tenants’ money when they are looking to rent a home or an apartment.

Rental scams are executed by criminals in a variety of ways, but the goal is the same: bilk potential tenants out of as much money as possible, state officials said. According to Federal Trade Commission rental fraud data, New Yorkers claimed losses of over $1.7 million during the last three years.

“Shopping for a rental home or apartment can be a stressful, expensive and time-consuming process, especially with scammers actively trying to take advantage of New Yorkers,” said Secretary of State Rossana Rosado in a news release. “I encourage New Yorkers who are looking for a rental property to follow basic tips to avoid losing their hard-earned money through deceptive practices.”

An emerging real estate scam involves scammers who fraudulently impersonate the identity of a licensed real estate professional, and present the real estate professional’s license as their own.

The scammer then attempts to “rent” a property that isn’t theirs to one or more potential tenants — sight unseen — making off with security deposits, first month’s rent or prepaid rent.

The scammers take legitimate rental postings and re-post or advertise them with their own contact information, often at enticing, lower rates than the original advertisement. The transactions are generally conducted by phone, text message or email with the scammer asking for a wire transfer, prepaid debit card, payment on a cash-based app or other method of payment that is not traceable.

Other scams include bait-and-switch techniques where a different property than the one available is advertised; rentals that are listed with features they don’t really have in order to garner higher rent; and charging potential tenants fees for background checks, then stealing the money and disappearing.

To avoid falling victim to a rental scam, New Yorkers should follow basic tips:

n Verify that the real estate professional you are dealing with is licensed in the State of New York by visiting the Department of State’s Public License Search.

n Validate the real estate professional’s identity by conducting an independent online search to obtain the phone number associated with the professional’s license address. Call the number to verify. You can also request to see a copy of the DOS-issued photo license and arrange an in-person or video meeting to compare the ID.

n Confirm that the property you are interested in is legitimately on the market. Many scammers act as representatives of real estate that is not on the market or does not exist.

n Avoid paying any advance fees or deposits before having an opportunity to inspect the premises. Additional information on the types of fees an agent might be permitted to collect is available here.

n Never give checks or wire money directly to the agent. Agents must be paid directly from their broker of record. Deposits and fees should never be in the name of the agent.

n Demand a refund of your deposit or commission fee if the agent does not finalize rental or sale of the property. An agent earns a commission when he or she assists the landlord and tenant in reaching an agreement on all the terms of the apartment rental.

n Request everything in writing, and get receipts.

n Never complete transactions in cash. It is always better to leave a paper trail by using a credit card or a personal check.

Make sure to save a copy of the payment for your records and keep in a secure location in case they are needed to dispute a charge. Real estate professionals are required by law to provide you copies of all instruments relating to the transaction.

n Refrain from providing personal or financial information unless you are absolutely sure you are dealing with a reputable business or agent.

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