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Scammers finding new ways to target potential renters

They're exploiting technology and acquiring electronic lock box codes.

TREASURE VALLEY -- With such a hot housing market in the Treasure Valley, scammers are taking advantage.

We know Craigslist is a go-to for predators, but we're learning the bad guys are taking it up a notch. One local property management company tells us six people have called them to report scams just this week - and they say new tricks are being used.

Scammers are pulling the typical ploy: taking the same pictures from a legitimate property's posting on a rental site and making their own ad with their own contact information.

"They will take our posts, our pictures, our description and they'll change the contact information and put theirs in and just say contact the landlord," Cornerstone Property Management Portfolio Manager Amelia Balfe said.

But now, Cornerstone Property Management, based in Meridian, says scammers are taking advantage of technology in a whole other way.

"We put these electronic lock boxes on and we can control it from our computer," Balfe said, "We can see who's going into the property. It gets all their contact information so we know who's going in and out."

It's a beneficial tool for property managers and renters - one that scammers are now exploiting.

"They have actually have been going on and getting our electronic lock box codes," Balfe added. "The scammers are going on and asking people to go to the link and get the code and then they ask them what the code is. So it's really terrifying, they can make copies of keys. We need to change locks now."

Scammers are asking prospective renters who contact them through their fake ads to go onto Rently.com - the site where the lock boxes are registered - and give them the code.

Cornerstone doesn't put a link to Rently.com on any of their postings: they make people contact them and fill out a pre-application first. So Balfe says it's scary predators have caught on to that tool.

"That's when they ask for a security deposit and rent. And some people will give it to them because they don't know that it's a scam," Balfe added.

Potential victims have called and told the company some scammers are even going to far as to try to meet up in person, Balfe says.

That's what happened to Daniel Miller this week. In looking for rentals, he stumbled across five different scams.

"They want to take advantage of people who are in a position where I need to get a place ASAP," Miller said.

But the one that ultimately ended up being connected to a Cornerstone Property really drew a red flag.

"He wanted my information and then he wanted a deposit to drop off the keys," Miller told KTVB. "This one was willing to take an extra step out to actually meet to try to get the money so that's when I started looking at everything."

Convincingly, Miller says, the individual posting the ad was using a 208 phone number. But in texting conversations, the individual's grammar and spelling errors, followed by the press for money and an application, made Miller extremely skeptical. After researching the property on other sites he found that Cornerstone in fact managed it, so he reached out.

"It's scary people are going into these homes. So we can't be using this system anymore. We want to make sure that our properties are safe, our owners, our applicants, tenants," Balfe said.

Going forward, some advice stemming from experience:

"If you see a property, Google the address. It's going to be connected to the property management that is listing it," Balfe said.

The biggest red flag is when the "landlord"/scammer won't actually talk to you on the phone or won't met in person, but will resort to texting or e-mailing.

"Just do your research and if it's too good to be true then it is," Miller added. "As many scams as I've seen going on in the whole week pertaining to that I was just really shocked. I couldn't believe it, I mean that was just crazy,"

Balfe says she is going to warn Rently this is happening. She says she's also hearing from other local property managers that they're experiencing the same thing. Going forward, she says they'll have to get smarter to protect their homeowners and potential tenants.

"We want to make sure everybody is being safe, including our owners. We want to protect our properties," Balfe added, "We're gonna make sure we always have a sign out in front that says the property management company, that says it's for rent and then put maybe signs in the windows and on the counter so if anybody gets into the property it says, 'hey unless you've contacted this person, this is who manages it'."