BOZEMAN – Finding a place to call home in a bustling rental market like Gallatin County isn’t easy, especially when online scammers lurk around the internet.
While searching for a rental online is convenient for most, especially out-of-towners, it can put you at risk; just ask Vince and Michelle, a couple from Tempe, Arizona.
They almost fell victim to an online scam during their search for a rental in Bozeman.
Vince and Michelle became suspicious when the supposed owner of the rental, which they found on Craigslist, requested a cashier’s check be sent in the mail and promised that the keys to the home would be mailed to them.
“We were questioning the validity of this person, and so we typed in the address trying to figure out who owned it, and if it was the person whose name was on the email [on Craigslist],” Vince said. “Then we actually found that the house was for sale by a realtor and that it had the exact same pictures as the Craigslist ad, and so obviously you can’t be renting something that’s for sale," he said.
Rental scams are something that the local authorities keep a close eye on during a busy rental season.
"June, July are definitely big months for people trying to rent their places out,” said Sgt. Travis Munter with the Bozeman Police Department. “So a lot of times what we’re seeing now is that people are using that to victimize people looking for rentals,” he said.
But if you know how to spot these scammers, Sgt. Munter said you’ll have a better chance of protecting yourself. His main piece of advice: If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
"If you’ve looked around in Bozeman enough, most of the time you know about what the price point is,” said Sgt. Munter. “A lot of these scams will have a much cheaper rental price because that draws people in right away, so definitely use that as a red flag and don’t send anybody money until you physically see the property,” he said.
Sgt. Munter also suggests that you never give any bank account or payment information over the Internet, and if there is an excessive pressure to make a deal, it’s probably a scam. It can also help to look out for spelling or grammar mistakes in the listings, as those could sometimes be a sign as well.
Vince and Michelle hope that by telling their story they can help others from falling victim to online thieves.
"It’s a scam that people can easily get sucked into, so it might be new and we just kind of wanted to warn people or at least get it out there that this is an easy way to get scammed,” Vince said.