U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command

Housing rental scams are on the rise worldwide.


According to Edward Labarge, director of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command’s Major Cybercrime Unit, scammers use a variety of tactics to steal people’s money before the victim determines the listing is fake.


“A typical rental scam works by a property being listed at a low price, usually below market rate, to get the attention of potential renters,” Labarge said. “Then the scammers will pressure the renters to pay a deposit and the first and last month’s rent to secure the rental.”


Army CID reports there are currently millions of fake listings for apartments, duplexes and houses listed on classified ads and reputable rental sites worldwide. The scam is accomplished when rentals are advertised, but they do not actually exist, are no longer available, or are up for sale.


“Rental scams will be more prevalent in larger metro areas where there are a large number of real estate rentals on the market,” Labarge said. “This makes it easy for these types of scams to go unnoticed due to the large volume of rentals.”


Military members may be more prone to falling victim to these scams because of frequent permanent change-of-station moves.


Labarge also said areas surrounding military installations are targeted because of competitive rental markets and service members having unique housing situations where they may not be available to view a property in person before arriving in the area.
Fake listings often lure victims in by offering military discounts, low rent, good neighborhoods and great amenities.


“If a house or apartment is being listed well below market norms, there is a reason,” Labarge said. “If it’s too good to be true, it usually is. Also, a good telltale sign that the listing is a scam is that the landlords won’t want to meet you in person or there is no screening process. Every landlord will want to make sure they meet you in person, no matter how brief since they are making a major decision to trust that you’ll follow the rules of the lease.”


CID officials remind members of the Army community that if they feel they are victims of a rental scam, they should contact their local CID office or law enforcement agency as well as the Federal Trade Commission.


Known types of rental scams include hijacked ads and phantom rentals.


For hijacked ads, scammers use real rental ads and photos from legitimate postings to create their own fake ads. Scammers will often use the same name as the legitimate posting and change the e-mail address or other contact information to their own.


For phantom rentals, scammers make fake listings using photos from properties that are not for rent, for sale or do not exist.


In addition, CID’s Major Cybercrime Unit continues to warn the Army community of ongoing Coronavirus-themed phishing attacks impersonating organizations with the end goal of stealing information and delivering malware.


Labarge said the Major Cybercrime Unit continues to “aggressively pursue cybercriminals both domestic and abroad who target our soldiers and their families in their online campaigns.”


For more information about computer security, other computer-related scams, and to review previous cybercrime alert notices and cyber-crime prevention flyers, visit the Army CID MCU website at https://www.cid.army.mil/mcu-advisories.html. To report a crime to Army CID, visit www.cid.army.mil.

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