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Beware of rental scams involving for-sale homes, Realtor warns

LEHI — The Utah housing market is hot, and realtors say it appears that scammers are targeting renters with fake ads.

For example, Realtor Steven Bond has a house listed that almost any family would want.

"So this is a four-bedroom, three-bath home in Lehi," Bond said while describing the home. "It's got really nice quality tile, two-tone paint."

The home priced at $295,000 sold within six days after its listing. But an upset would-be renter contacted Bond and alerted him to a fake online ad for the same home, offering rent at $1,100 per month.

“Someone, somewhere is grabbing the pictures, copying and pasting the remarks and posting them on classified ads for rent,” Bond said.

Bond said he’s now seeing fake rental ads appear online for roughly one in every 10 homes he lists for sale.

Bond said the woman was out a $1,000 deposit.

“Their whole intent is to collect the deposit and run with the money,” he said.

It was unclear after checking with the Utah Division of Consumer Protection and Utah Association of Realtors if the scams are currently as prevalent in other areas of the state.

Still, there have been past warnings about rental scams on online classified websites.

In July 2012, Utah Division of Consumer Protection officials cautioned about the scams that usually ask would-be renters to wire money to obtain a key to the property.

Information circulated by the division noted at the time that complaints had been registered by real estate agents, potential renters and property managers.

The division warned of several “common elements” found in the fake ads, including “very poor” language, follow-up numbers that are international or out-of-state, requests to wire deposit money, and situations where the “landlord” in charge of renting is located somewhere else and may be in the middle of some type of religious work.

Bond called the number associated with the fake ad for the Lehi home, and got a response via text within minutes, noting that the supposed owner of the house was in Albion, Maine.

A subsequent email from the fake owner stated he was in Maine “doing the Lord’s duty for humanity.”

Saratoga Springs resident Landon Buie nearly fell recently for a fake rental listing for a different Lehi home.

“You know, money is tight for everybody,” Buie said. “It was probably $500 less than what the average other prices were for the homes.”

Buie ultimately did not go forward with an offer after growing suspicious about the ad. He said it upset him that scammers are taking advantage of innocent people with families.

“I hope that whoever is doing this scam is caught,” he said.

The Utah Division of Consumer Protection said the deposit money in these cases is often not recoverable because it is frequently wired overseas.

Bond said if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. He strongly cautions renters never to put money down on properties they haven’t seen in person.

“Absolute red flag,” Bond said. “You should never move on something like that.”

Email: aadams@deseretnews.com