Renter Beware:Scams in Burlington Are On The Rise

By Kristen Tripodi

Published 05/21 2014 07:03PM

Updated 05/23 2014 10:54PM

BURLINGTON, Vt. - At any given time less than two percent of the apartments in Chittenden County are available for rent. 

 That's well below the national average making it difficult to find a place to live. Adding to the challenge- the number of rental scams is on the rise.

Studios, duplexes, and single family homes. A quick internet search reveals hundreds of results advertising great views, pet friendly, and utilities included. 

In a market like Burlington those rentals fill up fast and scammers are taking advantage of the slim pickins'.

“It’s very aggravating for people and it’s just not fair,” said Julie Lamoreaux, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Hickok and Boardman Realty.

Lamoreaux has worked as a realtor is the Burlington area for more than a decade.
She says in the last year she's seen the number of rental scams rise significantly.

“It’s starting to be more prevalent and it’s starting to be more invasive. When you start getting into some of these other websites that we are utilizing for our listings like Trulia then it starts to be a little more of a threat,” said Lamoreaux.

And she says not only are there more scams out there, the people behind them are getting creative.

“They either take the sellers name from public records, or use my name as part of the story to provide the back drop for their scam,” said Lamoreaux.

This home in Burlington is a perfect example. Lamoreaux is working with the owner to sell the house. But little did she know someone else copied the photos she posted online and reposted the listing as a 'rental'.

“I don’t search for them- they usually kind of find me,” said Lamoreaux.

Something she realized when would-be renters started showing up wanting a tour.
“One lady who actually came to the house said he said the house is vacant go ahead look around and check it out and see if you like it,” said Lamoreaux.

That's when she realized her listing was being repurposed by someone else - who will eventually ask you to send them money for a deposit on a place that's not for rent.

“I emailed the address and said please stop using this property as a scam but my polite request is not going to go anywhere,” joked Lamoreaux.

So to find out what renters and realtors are dealing with, I started my own search for a place to rent.

Of course, some responses did come from legitimate people looking to rent their property. But at the same time I received just as many that seemed just a little off.

“If something seems too good to be true, then it unfortunately probably is,” said Molly Hall, a Rental Specialist with Coldwell Banker Hickok and Boardman Realty.

She says scammers often reply with detailed emails, sometimes including multiple pictures of the property.

“Some of them can be quite lengthy and go into a lot of detail about who they are their hobbies and what they like to do and what type of person they are. But they'll say things like I’m going to the university and not say University of Vermont or St. Mikes or Champlain. And so those are where the red flags come up,” said Hall.

She points out other ways to spot a scam- 
In the questionable emails we received, there were quite a few similarities.
All the so-called landlords were claiming to now live out of state and all conveniently took the keys with them. The emails were littered with grammatical errors. A few even suggested I visit the outside of the house to check it out before dropping a money order for a deposit in the mail.

When I drove by to see if the property was real I saw a realtor sign which the scammer told me to ignore saying they weren't working with this company anymore. That sent up another red flag, so instead of emailing the scammer back, I called the company.

“It unfortunately is very easy for someone to download the photos and to post them themselves,” said Hall.

But Hall says the problem can go the other way too. She says scammers have contacted her looking to 'rent' a property.

“Some of them can be quite legitimate sounding so I have replied to a couple and then quickly figure out no this is not somebody who's really looking to be a tenant and who's interested in this property- this is a scam,” said Hall.

Either way Hall says the goal is the same-to make a quick buck.
Hall warns not to ever send money to someone for a home or rental you haven't toured. Be wary of offers from people who are 'out of the country'.  Make sure the asking price is consistent with the area and be suspicious of something that's prices much lower than its neighbors.
And as always if it seems too good to be true -- well it probably is.

“It must work because they keep doing it and they keep getting more aggressive with it,” said Lamoreaux.

Both real estate professionals say these types of things tend to pop up more during the summer months - when there is more turnover.
So whether you're looking for a family home, or a place to stay for a week on the lake, do your research before writing a check.

So what do you do if you find and/or fall for a rental scam?
First Hall recommends you click 'report' on the website where you find it.
Then Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling says there is website to report a scam - it’s called the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

For more information click here.

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