Boston-area renters are being warned to avoid online leasing scams after several recent incidents have triggered an official investigation.
Suffolk County prosecutors and Boston police detectives have been investigating recent claims that victims responding to online apartment listings on sites such as Craigslist were, in fact, having their initial payments stolen, according to a statement from the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office.
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“The process of renting an apartment and moving into a new home is stressful enough,” Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said. “I urge every renter to do careful research before entering into any agreement to ensure you’re getting what you paid for.”
Recent scams operated by having an applicant send a payment for a unit in an online advertisement that was placed by someone posing as the rightful owner, the DA’s office explained. The renter would then arrive to find the apartment already occupied.
The district attorney’s warning comes just weeks after NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering published a report stating that Craigslist fails to identify more than half of its scam rental listings. Some false listings can linger on the site for 20 hours, enough time to victimize prospective renters in competitive housing markets.
“We ask that people using online services to rent apartments in Boston use caution,” Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans was quoted in the district attorney’s statement. “By taking a few extra steps you can reduce your chances of becoming a victim of this type of scam.”
The DA recommended that apartment-shoppers work with licensed real estate professionals, meet landlords in person and avoid sending payments until the recipient has been verified.