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Consumer alert

Don’t let rental scam ruin your summer vacation plans

If you’re looking for a summer rental, or any rental for that matter, watch out for scams. Keep your guard up so you don’t have to deal with the unpleasantness of ending up out of money and without the rental you were expecting.

There are common warning signs to watch for. It will typically be a great property offered online for a relatively cheap price. Chances are you’ll be asked to pay a deposit through a money transfer service such as Western Union. You also won’t get the opportunity to see the property in person or, possibly, even speak by phone to the person offering the rental.

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“Online rental scams typically involve attractive, high-end properties offered at extremely low cost,” said Paula Fleming, vice president of the Better Business Bureau serving Eastern Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

These sorts of scams are not only increasing around here, but nationwide, according to complaints logged by BBB offices.

Keep in mind that a well-crafted scam is going to include elements that make it more believable. Just because there are pictures doesn’t mean the listing is real. It is common in these scams to use photos — often copied from legitimate listings. The scam listing could also feature such a seemingly good deal that some consumers would be willing to suspend disbelief. Don’t.

If you’re using Craigslist, be particularly careful. If you can, you should visit the property before paying anyone. At a minimum, get the address of the property and the name of the owner or agent renting the property to 1) see if they are connected to any complaints and 2) make sure the address exists.

If you’re not going through an established business — like a real estate agency — that can offer peace of mind that you’ll get what you expect, then it’s up to you to determine whether you’re on solid footing. That means doing your homework and being skeptical.

Bottom line: Heed the warning signs (if it seems too good to be true . . . ) and never wire money to anyone you don’t know.

Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers for two decades. He lives in Worcester and also writes the Consumer Alert blog on Boston.com. Mitch can be reached at ConsumerNews@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchlipka.
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