Scammer targeting Austin’s short-term rentals

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Many Austinites rent out their homes throughout the year, especially during South by Southwest, but someone is scamming potential renters and property owners. A Craigslist poster is listing homes for short-term rent, but the posts are simply copied from other home rental sites.

Amanda Elmore manages short-term rentals and lists her Castle Hill property on sites like HomeAway and Airbnb. Recently she got a call from the housekeeper warning a scammer posted her rental home and others on Craigslist.

“Her other client had people arrive [at a rental home] that had paid, and had found the ad on Craigslist, and they weren’t on the books,” said Elmore.

Potential renters got scammed out of the money they wired, and a place to stay.

Elmore decided to check the fake listings herself and found homes all over Austin listed by the particular Craigslist user. The same exact homes — with word-for-word descriptions — appear on other home rental sites. The scammer ultimately copies the listing and then posts to Craigslist with a lower price.

“The best that we could do was to actually start flagging the posts that we could see from the guy,” said Elmore.

She even contacted the scammer through text messages about her own property.

“I asked him a lot of questions,” Elmore said, “and he just started lying about the house.”

Elmore says these scams are nothing new, but crooks might be working harder trying to cash in during SXSW.

“Maybe it is heavier now, knowing that people are coming to town.”

Elmore notified the Austin Police Department and says she will continue doing what she can to warn people.

If you’re looking to rent, how can you make sure you’re getting what you expect?

The Better Business Bureau says it is a “buyer beware” kind of market, but here are some tips:

  • Scammers will often list a rental for a very low price to lure victims. If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Ask for additional photos or information. Ask for specific details about the house. Legitimate property owners will be happy to oblige.
  • Never wire money. Money sent via wire transfer service is extremely difficult to retrieve.
  • And, don’t rent if you feel pressured. If you receive a phone call or email pressuring you to make a decision, ignore it and move on.

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