The FBI Boston office issued a warning Tuesday about a jump in scams connected to the rental and real estate markets.

“We have seen a significant increase in the amount of money being lost by people who are desperate for a good deal. Scammers are cashing in on renters who need to act quickly for fear of missing out, and it’s costing consumers thousands of dollars, and in some cases, leaving them stranded,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division.

“We are asking everyone to exercise caution, especially over the next few months, as folks look to book last minute summer getaways.”

The FBI identifies two types of rental scams. In the first case, the victim has rental property advertised and is contacted by an interested party. Once the rental price is agreed on, the scammer sends a check for the deposit on the rental property to the owner. The check is either written for more than the amount required, with the scammer asking for the remainder to be refunded to them, or the check is written for the correct amount, but the scammer backs out of the rental agreement and asks for a refund.

Since the banks do not usually place a hold on the funds, the victim has immediate access to them and believes the check has cleared. In the end, the check is found to be counterfeit and the victim is held responsible by the bank for all losses.

The second type of scam identified involves real estate that is advertised online. The scammer duplicates postings from legitimate real estate websites and reposts these ads, after altering them. Often, the scammers use the broker’s real name to create a fake email, which gives the fraud more legitimacy.


When the victim sends an email through the classified advertisement website inquiring about the home, they receive a response from someone claiming to be the owner. The scammer claims they’re unable to show the property without payment because they are either out of town or out of the country. If the victim is interested in renting the home, they are asked to send money, and shortly thereafter, the property is no longer available.

Nationwide, in 2021, 11,578 people reported losing $350,328,166 due to these types of scams, which is a 64% increase from the previous year. In the FBI’s Boston division, which includes Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, 415 victims reported $13,424,269 in losses, a 27% jump.

• 42 victims in Maine lost $489,309

• 290 victims in Massachusetts lost $8,944,041

• 41 victims in New Hampshire lost $2,576,210

• 42 victims in Rhode Island lost $1,414,709


The actual losses are most likely much higher because many people are hesitant to report they were scammed. Within the FBI Boston Division’s area of responsibility, several incidents have been reported in recent months.

An Idaho man was in the process of moving to Rhode Island and responded to a Craigslist ad for a year-long rental in Narragansett, Rhode Island. After getting a $21,756 advance from his employer, he wired that money to the “owner” and set up a time to gain access to the rental. Prior to the agreed upon meeting time, the man received a text canceling the meeting because the “owner” was in Chicago tending to his sick son. The man went to the house and was greeted by the actual property owner, who told him it was not a rental property and he had not posted an online ad.

The FBI offers these precautions to prevent getting scammed:

• Do not wire funds to people you do not know.

• Do not put money toward a house or apartment you have not seen.

• Confirm the identity of the landlord by researching public records to find out who owns the property you are seeking to rent or purchase.


• Do not fill out applications online until you have met directly with the property manager.

• Know local rental prices.

• Look for online reviews, references and testimonials from past inhabitants.

• Be wary if a potential tenant wants to rent property sight unseen.

• Be wary if a potential renter says they are out of town and will send you a cashiers’ check.

• Be wary if a potential landlord says he is out of the country and wants the rent sent to a foreign account.

• Do not accept overpayment for properties. If you receive a check for more than the specified amount, return it. Do not deposit it.

If you find yourself the target or victim of a rental scam, stop all contact immediately, and if you have already sent money, it is extremely important to report any transfer of funds to your financial institution and file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at

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