House Rental Scam Alert
Detective Lieutenant Robert Bracken of the Clifton Police Department warns of a popular scam that tends to pick up at this time of year - the rental scam.
This particular scam targets minority families, often new immigrants and refugees, who may have very little money and are desperate for housing. Sometimes these victims also have a limited command of English and few or no local friends or relatives, making them much more vulnerable to these devious tricks.
The scammers find a house that is standing vacant - often one that is under foreclosure. They advertise the place for rent, despite having no claims to the property, at a very appealing rate. For example, they might offer a "2 bedroom, 1.5 bath house" for $900 a month; a rate that is unheard of in this area and too good to pass up.
Once they have a bite, they'll meet the victim at the house with a key they've either stolen from the Realtor lock box or by some other means and show the house. Often these showings are at night when they are less likely to be noticed. They "rent it" out, taking a large security deposit from the victim, often completely wiping their savings out in the process and leaving the victim with nothing to fall back on. The victim moves in and when the bank comes to check on the property, finds them there. Although it is not their fault, they are technically in the home illegally and are removed.
Lt. Bracken said that this happens "all the time," especially in densely populated Paterson where there are many two-family homes and so many people coming and going that the new people don't always raise questions by the neighbors. Bracken said that he expects to see more cases like this in the coming weeks. This is "as low as it gets," he said, as he spoke of families losing every penny they had saved.
Clifton Realtor Joe Siano said that the best way to protect yourself is to "go with a Realtor." If you can't, he said that he's happy to read over leases before you sign. He also recommended that prospective renters or buyers do an Internet search on the property address before committing. You can check there to see who last showed the property and then call that agent to confirm that the listing is legitimate. He said that he's seen instances of listings being stolen and republished with incorrect information. Sadly, some people fall for this and end up handing over money for a listing that isn't actually available anymore.
According to Zillow, the median rent for a two-bedroom house in Clifton is $3,000; the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $2,150. Keep these numbers in mind when you're searching and if you see something advertised far below this rate, proceed with caution. THIS SITE offers some tips for protecting yourself from such a scam.