The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command is warning soldiers to be wary of potential housing rental scams.
CID reports that rental scams are on the rise, with millions of fake housing rentals on otherwise reputable sites advertising properties that are not available for rent or do not exist. These scammers often target military personnel looking for rental properties around bases, and lure them with false promises of military discounts, amenities and low rent, according to the report.
CID officials could not say how many troops have been scammed. A 2019 report from Apartment List found that an estimated 5.2 million renters in the U.S. have lost money on a rental scam, one-third of whom lost over $1,000. The Federal Trade Commission offers further information about how to identify and report these scams.
Military members may be especially vulnerable to these scams due to frequent movement between bases, as well as competitive rental markets and the possibility that they may not be able to physically tour the property before paying, according to Edward Labarge, the director of CID’s Major Cybercrime Unit.
“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 in a statement. “Then the scammers will pressure the renters to pay a deposit and the first and last month’s rent to secure the rental.”
CID reports that hijacked ads, which use real photos and addresses of properties but change contact information, and phantom rentals, which are not for sale or do not exist, are common tactics for scammers. The command urges renters to look out for a number of warning signs, including the owner asking for money before the lease is signed or property is toured, not asking for background information, and asking for payment through money wiring or payment apps.
To prevent becoming a rental scam victim, CID urges renters to take precautions including doing more research into the company property, asking to see more photos and reviewing contracts before giving the owner money or personal information, among others listed in the report.
Those who suspect or have fallen victim to a housing rental scam should report it to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center or the Federal Trade Commission. Renters can also use homes.mil, which is sponsored by the Department of Defense, to search for rental properties.
Hannah Graf is an editorial intern at Military Times. She is a rising senior at Syracuse University, where she is majoring in journalism and political science.