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Rental scams abound in Ada County's punishing housing market

A new scam, pervasive on Craigslist, is swindling even savvy would-be renters.
Credit: ACSO

ADA COUNTY, Idaho — Ada County's punishing rental market is taking another hit as online scammers prey on people searching for housing. The Ada County Sheriff's Office issued a warning Thursday about people posing as homeowners on Craigslist and rental sites. 

Often, the scammer will list houses to rent for under-market prices, and persuade victims to pay security deposits and first months' rent. It is not until later that the would-be renter realizes that the person they were corresponding with does not actually own the property, leaving them out hundreds or even thousands of dollars. 

According to the sheriff's office, criminals will review legitimate rentals on sites like AH4rent or Rently, then register as a real estate with those sites, giving them access to lockbox codes. 

Those pictures, addresses, and home information are copied into a Craigslist ad, with contact info for the fake "owner."

Once prospective renters reply to the ad, the scammer makes arrangements to meet at the house - only to call last minute and say they cannot make it. The fake owner gives victims the code for the lockbox and tells them to let themselves in and look around, convincing even savvy renters that the situation is legitimate. 

Having convinced the victims, ACSO says, the scammer sends over a fake rental agreement and tells the renters they have been "approved," asking them to send money over

"Once that money is transferred, it’s gone," the sheriff's office wrote. "The scammers have the cash and the renters are out of luck. We’ve even had a few cases where people have moved into homes and stayed there for a few days before the real renters show up."

The problem is pervasive: When a detective checked last week, nine out of 11 homes listed on American Homes 4 Rent had been duplicated on Craigslist by scammers. 

According to the sheriff's office, some of the scammers use 208 area codes and some do not, but all of the numbers are "spoofed" and untraceable by law enforcement.

The Ada County Sheriff's Office urged would-be renters to avoid Craigslist, where it is easy for scammers to pose as homeowners. In addition, calling the phone number listed on the sign at the home itself is a good way to double-check whether something is legit, officials said. 

The Ada County Assessor's Office also allows people to look up the owner of a particular property. 

Lastly, investigators say, approach all listings with a critical eye, particularly if a house is renting for a lower-than-average amount.

"If the prices being quoted seems too cheap to be true, it probably is," the sheriff's office wrote. "Getting a good deal on a rental property from a stranger is a massive red flag."

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