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PROVO — If you're looking to rent an apartment, condo, or even a house, an old scam is rearing its ugly head again. Some people in Utah are sending deposits to fake landlords who do a wonderful job of impersonating the real landlord.
This scam has been around since rental listings became available on the internet. It comes and goes and is happening all over Utah right now.
College student MaKenzee Butler was looking for a two bed, one bath apartment to rent in Provo.
Finding the right place in Provo wasn't as easy as Butler thought it would be. But after hours and hours of scouring rental ads, she thought she found it on Craigslist — a condo not too far from downtown.
The best part was it was hundreds of dollars less than other listings, she said.
"It was listed for $500, we were like, done, take it, it's a steal," Butler said.
Butler contacted the landlord right away. In emails, he told her he was a pediatrician, stuck in some sort of assignment in New York for a couple years but didn't want to let his home go. Butler said he was very nice in the emails.
His emails were coming in at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning. He couldn't come back with the questions I was asking about the railroad and the noise, where it was located and that kind of stuff.
"I'm happy you're interested in my house, I'm happy you're wanting to take care of my home, this home means a lot to me," Butler read from an email the doctor wrote.
She filled out a so-called rental application and even sent a short bio, reassuring the guy his home would be in good hands.
She quickly got approved. But then when it was time to talk about money, things started getting weird.
"His emails were coming in at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning," she said. "He couldn't come back with the questions I was asking about the railroad and the noise, where it was located and that kind of stuff."
He refused to talk to Butler on the phone. She did get a cell phone number he claimed belonged to his wife, but no one answered her numerous calls — she only got text messages.
"She wanted me to make the direct deposit, you can send it to a through a Western Union store close to you, 500 for the deposit," she said the text messages read.
She asked if she could use a check or a credit card but they only wanted untraceable Western Union. Just because of that, we know it's a scam.
Here's how the scam begins: the bogus landlord copies a legitimate listing, and makes it their own. In this case, we found the real owner.
First time landlord Tiffany Porter and her husband own the place. She said they were "absolutely not" sending those early morning emails and texts to Butler.
Porter said she'd never demand a deposit from someone — let alone demand it be wired — for a place they've never seen.
"I wouldn't expect anyone else to want to just look in the windows," Porter said. "I think everyone wants to see where they're going to live."
I think obviously, that's how they get people easily, cause people see it's a lot cheaper.
–Tiffany Porter, landlord
The $500 a month for rent was way too low, she added.
"I think obviously, that's how they get people easily, cause people see it's a lot cheaper," she said.
Utah Apartment Association's executive director Paul Smith said these scammers target people who are looking for a good deal.
"They're looking for people who haven't had much life experience, haven't developed that common sense yet," Smith said.
One way to ferret out fraudsters is to ask specific questions that someone who actually lives in the neighborhood could answer, he said, Like just how loud is the train, or the names of schools or nearby shopping.
You can also ask see a tax document or business license.
"Typically, cities have lists, apartments have to be licensed, you can go to the city and ask if that's a legitimate owner," Smith said.
These apartment scams will never go away because technology has made it too easy for the bad guys. Worse, it's unlikely the scammers will ever be caught because they are generally overseas.
There's never a legitimate excuse to wire a landlord money. Always use your credit card so you can dispute the charges if needed.