Keeping a safe social distance in the time of Covid-19 is aimed at protecting us from getting sick, but it’s also creating a new opportunity for scammers who are now targeting people looking for a place to live.
Comedian and actress Vickie Eisenstein has encountered this herself.
Eisenstein loves her YouTube audience.
So in typical Hollywood style, when she was scammed - she told them all about it.
“I recently got scammed out of $2,000 trying to rent an apartment,” she said on the video.
It started last month, when she needed a new apartment.
“My original roommate was ignoring social distancing and partying. So I didn’t feel safe and had to move out ASAP," Eisenstein said.
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She found an apartment through an online rental site. The landlord told her he wasn’t showing the apartment in person, due to coronavirus. Instead he showed her pictures.
“There was part of me that thought, ‘this is a little odd. I feel like I should be seeing it first.’ But everybody kind of said to me, ‘It is weird, but it’s also a different time right now with Covid-19 and the pandemic.’”
Eisenstein signed a lease and paid the landlord $2,200 through a bank transfer.
But when she showed up at the apartment, she learned it was all a scam.
“The police discovered someone was already living in the unit he sold me,” she said.
“They're looking to take your money by putting down money for properties sight unseen,” Steve McFarland of the Better Business Bureau said.
The BBB said it’s seen a 10% increase in rental scams like this one; fraudsters trick renters into believing they have a unit to rent.
But they don’t. In fact, they’re not even landlords. They’re simply scammers.
They swipe apartment images from other online listings. The names, pictures, even real estate license numbers that the landlord uses -- those are all stolen, too.
“A lot of what these scammers are relying on is that people start to feel embarrassed and don’t share the story. And so people don’t realize how widespread this kind of crime is,” Eisenstein said.
The Better Business Bureau agrees and says here are some red flags that a rental may not be legit.
- The supposed landlord won’t show the unit in person.
- They want you to wire money or pay cash.
- They offer a below-market price.
- They want to rent the unit quickly.
“I'm in a really nice apartment and I’m actually happy where I’m at,” Eisenstein said.
Eisenstein ended up finding a legit landlord, and she hopes other apartment-seekers learn from her story.
"Who knows where else he’s posting these,” Eisenstein said.
The Better Business Bureau says even during this pandemic, you can see an apartment in person - just wear a mask and practice social distancing.