Rental scams: Beware of deals too good to be true

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SARASOTA, Fla. - Continuing with our month-long coverage of protecting you against scams, particularly senior citizens, we take a look at rental scams.

These scams are prevalent just about anywhere, but even more so in vacation destinations like the Suncoast.

“There's the old saying…if it's too good to be true, it probably is,” says Sarasota resident Suzanne Trembley.

In one case surrounding her home, it sounded great: only $500 a month to rent her house in Sarasota. “Around the 1st of October, we were getting inquiries to the rent. It kind of mushroomed from there and happened fast.”

Here's the problem: her home's not for rent, it's for sale. “We got on top of it right away to try and tell the website companies it's not for rent, so they would take it down. A day or two later, it was back up again.

The scammer strikes again -- using Trembley's name -- asking potential renters to put down a deposit by wiring money into an unknown account.

“It just got out of hand,” says Trembley.

So out of hand she had people showing up at her house unexpectedly, asking her about the rent they saw online.

At this point, it doesn't appear anyone lost money in this particular scam. But the same can't be said about so many others that are similar.

“They are increasing because of the ease you can conduct these scams over the phone or online,” says Detective Steve McDowell of the Sarasota Police Department.

And over the next few weeks, ABC 7 will delve into more details on phone and online scams. In the meantime, here's how to protect yourself from rental scams.

First, before paying anything, check out the property yourself or ask a local to do it on your behalf.

Second, don't rely solely on email correspondence. You'll want to talk by phone or in person with the landlord or listing agent. If you meet the landlord, ask for proof of ownership. If you meet the real estate agent, verify their credentials with a licensing office.

And third, never pay upfront for a rental with a wire transfer or debit card. These are the methods scammers prefer.