New York State is warning renters about scams targeting them with the goal of swindling their deposit money. The New York State Department of State and the Division of Consumer Protection alerted renters about the landlord scams. Criminals are posing as property landlords and real estate agents, hoping to get as much money as possible by duping hopeful renters. The Federal Trade Commission states that New York residents lost $1.7 million in these scams over the past three years.

New York's Secretary of State, Rossana Rosado, said,

“Shopping for a rental home or apartment can be a stressful, expensive and time-consuming process, especially with scammers actively trying to take advantage of New Yorkers. I encourage New Yorkers who are looking for a rental property to follow basic tips to avoid losing their hard-earned money through deceptive practices.”

Scammers pose as licensed real estate agents or landlords looking to rent a property. The potential renter has not seen the property in person but puts down a deposit anyway. When it's time to meet the real estate agent or landlord to get the keys to the property, the scammer does not show, having already made off with the victim's money.

Other scams include bait-and-switch techniques where a different property than the one available is advertised; rentals that are listed with features they don’t really have in order to garner higher rent; and charging potential tenants fees for background checks, then stealing the money and disappearing.

There have been several of these scams in recent months:

- A New York Police Department officer is accused of posing as a landlord and fraudulently rented out his own apartment in queens to at least nine victims. He used Craig's List to scam victims out of $2,800.

- A New York City woman lost $2,145, after being scammed by a criminal posing as a real estate agent. She was able to view the apartment and the real estate agent even had a 'real' Facebook page (which turned out to be a hacked page).

- In Albany, these rental scams are happening once a week.

Here's how you can avoid being a victim of a renters scam:

- Verify the real estate agent's license with the State of New York through the Department of State’s Public License Search
- Validate the real estate agent's information by calling numbers and even doing an online search
- Confirm that the property is real and is listed on the market
- Don't pay any fees or deposits before you have seen the property in person and a lease agreement has been signed
- Only pay the real estate agent's broker of record, not the agent directly
- Demand a refund of your money if the rental or fee is not finalized
- Be sure to get everything in writing. Use email for communication involving important information (follow up a phone call with an email confirmation, if need be). Get copies of all paperwork
- Do not provide any personal or financial information until you have verified you are dealing with a legit real estate agent

If you believe you have been scammed, please file a complaint with the Division of Consumer Protection.

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