According to the FBI, victims lost almost $397 million in real estate scams in 2022.File photo by Noe Magaña.
According to the FBI, victims lost almost $397 million in real estate scams in 2022.File photo by Noe Magaña.

This article was written by BenitoLink intern Grace Gillio 

As the housing market remains increasingly difficult to enter, renters are facing a new challenge in their search for affordable housing: real estate scams. 

While this problem impacts San Benito County, it’s occurring nationwide. According to the FBI, victims lost almost $397 million in real estate scams in 2022, compared to $350 million in 2021 and $213 million in 2020.

Rental and timeshare scams, which can be found anywhere from Facebook Marketplace to Zillow, work impersonating an existing homeowner or listing to take money from unsuspecting renters. Oftentimes, the photos and information about the property are convincing, because they are pulled from reputable rental sites. The difference is, these fraudulent listings have no real agency or landlord behind them.

Nicole Rajkovich, a Hollister resident and aunt of this reporter, had her own experience with this scam. “I was renting out a house through an ad on Craigslist,” she said, “and a prospective tenant called me to speak about sending over a security deposit.” 

The only problem was that Rajkovich had no clue who this prospective tenant was. 

“I had no idea what he was talking about,” she said. “What we had determined was that someone duplicated my ad and was posing as the landlord of my house, trying to get security deposits out of people.” 

The Pivetti Company, a local property management agency, weighed in on the dangers of rental scams, and things to look out for to best avoid them. 

“Avoid Craigslist,” Pivetti owner Kym said. “Scammers will ask for a deposit for keys. Be careful with verbiage.” 

Kym also recommended potential renters verify the properties they come across. “if you’re on Zillow check against the company website, compare, and never send money.” 

The Federal Trade Commission offers tips on how to spot scammers.

  • Do some research. Search online for the management company name plus words like “review,” “complaint,” or “scam.” If you find bad reviews, you may want to look elsewhere. 
  • Verify who and what. Call the number on the management company’s website—not the one in the listing—to make sure the listing agent works there. Check to see if the home’s address is on the company’s website. If it isn’t, it may be a scam.
  • Visit the rental in-person. Check out the apartment yourself (or send a trusted friend) to make sure it is what has been advertised. If you can’t go in-person, ask your school about other options. If the landlord insists you pay a fee or deposit before they show you the place, keep looking. That’s most likely a scammer. 
  • Pay by credit card—it’s the safest way. Scammers insist that you pay in ways that make it hard to get your money back—like wire transfers, cash, cryptocurrency, or through payment apps like CashApp, Venmo, or Zelle. Even if they say the money is refundable, you’re not likely to ever get it back. 

Rental scams can be reported to local law enforcement, Federal Trade Commision and FBI. The FTC also recommends reporting the fake ad to the website on which it was found.

The BenitoLink Internship Program is a paid, skill-building program that prepares local youth for a professional career. This program is supported by Monterey Peninsula Foundation AT&T Golf Tour, United Way, Taylor Farms and the Emma Bowen Foundation.