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BBB: Consumers beware of home ad scams

Finding a home for rent online can be convenient, but caution should be used while searching, said a spokesperson for the local Better Business Bureau (BBB).

Potential renters can find the price, square footage, details and even a virtual tour of the home, said Dottie Callina, of BBB Serving Metro Atlanta, Athens & Northeast Georgia, Inc.

However, despite the convenience, she said the BBB warns consumers to be watchful of fake home advertisements on web sites such as craigslist.com. The bogus ads are malicious and their goal is to steal money from potential renters, she stressed.

"Consumers typically fall victim to these scams after responding to an online classified [ad] for a rental property," said Callina. "Victims...are asked the supposed landlord to wire money for the deposit and first month's rent...to receive the keys."

In these scams, victims are not allowed to view the supposed property before wiring the money, she said. The scammers typically advise that they are out of the country and are unable to show the house.

Often, the photographs consumers see online are pictures scammers steal of actual homes posted for sale online, said Callina.

"As a result of this scam, many shocked homeowners have received knocks at their doors from people who were planning to move into their new rental home," she said.

Consumers should be aware of the following warning signs:

•The deal sounds too good to be true

Scammers often list rentals for very low prices to lure victims, she said. Consumers should compare similar listings to be on the safe side. If the rental price is suspiciously low, consider walking away.

•The out-of-town landlord only communicates via e-mail

The scam artist poses as the landlord, and usually tells the victim they are out of the country for missionary work and can only deliver e-mail messages, said Callina.

•Wiring of money is required

Landlords should not require money to be wired before the keys can be given, or a showing of the property can take place, she said. "Don't pay any money before inspecting the home, inside and out," she added.

Callina said most licensed realtors will allow a potential renter to view the property before accepting the deposit.

A red flag should always be raised if the supposed landlord asks for the deposit to be made through a wiring service, such as Western Union or Money Gram, said the spokeswoman. Money sent this way is difficult to retrieve, she said.

"Once the scammers have picked it up, there is little recourse for getting the money back," said Callina.