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Scam Alert

Cons That Bloom in the Spring

Protect yourself from these scams

The rental rip-off

The claim: Choice vacation rentals or year-round housing are offered at below-market rates in classified ads online or in newspapers.

The catch: The rentals don't really exist.

Scammers simply write phony ads, sometimes decorating them with photos and property descriptions that they steal from legitimate websites. Through e-mail or phone exchanges, a deal is struck, and you're asked to complete an application form or to pay upfront, usually via a wire transfer. But the application form really serves to get personal information for identity theft. And if you pay in advance, you'll later learn that the dwelling is occupied, doesn't exist, or you were mailed nonworking keys.

Your defense: Contact a legitimate local real estate or travel agent for permanent or vacation shelter. Walk away from any rental offer that involves a wire transfer. Be careful with any landlord or listing agent who writes or speaks in broken English (these bogus ads are often posted by scammers, who use free Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo e-mail accounts). And always check the property's address yourself through an online search. If it's truly for rent, you can get confirmation of that through a phone call.

Next: Grandparents scam >>

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