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Consumer alert: Online rental ads may be phony



The Washoe County Sheriff’s Office Detective Division would like to alert residents of an emerging online rental housing fraud in the Reno-Sparks area. Detectives have uncovered an online rental scam in Northwest Reno in which criminals solicit renters on local websites such as Craigslist, Rentals.com and Postlets to obtain personal identifying information such as Social Security numbers, bank accounts and credit information.

Scammers are taking legitimate listings for homes, complete with pictures, and reposting it under a fictitious name on Craigslist or other rental websites (without the sites’ consent or knowledge) under the housing rentals category. To lure the renters, the houses are almost always listed at below-market rental rates.

The interested party will contact the “homeowner” via e-mail, who usually explains that he or she had to leave the U.S. quickly. Sheriff’s Office Detective Sergeant Tom Green said that the most recent case involved a man who claimed he recently transferred to London. “Potential renters are then asked to fill out a credit application or in some cases wire money for two months’ rent,” said Green. “They then use this information to commit identity fraud and or obtain money from their victims.”

Cheri Williams at Reno/Sparks Association of Realtors and Shelley Specchio, CEO of the Northern Nevada Regional MLS, both say that this is a common scam in their field. “Many of our members (realtors) have been affected nationwide,” said Specchio. She encourages her members to sign up for Google Alerts for each of their listings to check for potential scams on a regular basis.

The following are some tips on ways to avoid being victimized:

  • Only deal with landlords or renters who are local.
  • Be suspicious if you’re asked to only use a wire transfer service.
  • Beware of e-mail correspondence from the “landlord” that’s written in poor or broken English.
  • Research the average rental rates in that area and be suspicious if the rate is significantly lower.
  • Don’t give out personal information, like Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers.

The Sheriff’s Office also encourages potential renters to check online at www.washoecounty.us under Property Information to see who the owner of record is. The Assessor’s Office provides Real Property Assessment Data which includes the name of the owner(s). If you suspect a scam, have already been victimized or know someone who has fallen victim to a scam, please report it to the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office Detective Division at 775.328.3320.

The Washoe County Sheriff’s Office celebrates 150 years of proud service and community partnership in 2011. Sheriff Michael Haley is the 24th person elected to serve as the sheriff of Washoe County. His office continues to be the only full service public safety agency operating within northern Nevada and is responsible for operating the consolidated detention facility, regional crime lab, Northern Nevada Counter Terrorism Center, Internet Crimes against Children Task Force, court security, service of civil process and traditional street patrols.

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