Torrance Police: Prospective Renters Targeted by Online Scam

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Scammers have been targeting prospective renters online, Torrance police said. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A number of prospective renters have recently reported a housing scam that originates online, according to the Torrance Police Department.

In most cases, the perpetrators post an advertisement on various real-estate websites — usually Craigslist.org — indicating that a residence is for rent, the Police Department said in a statement Thursday.

The phone numbers listed in the online posts are fictitious, as are the email addresses, which are usually associated with Yahoo and Hotmail accounts, authorities said. The numbers are commonly attached to pre-paid phones, or their true phone numbers are masked by using a website or computer application.

Once the scam is over, the phony email addresses are deleted and the pre-paid phones are discarded.

“When inquiries are made from the victim to rent the location, the suspect engages in conversation,” the police statement said. During those conversations, “the suspect most commonly states [that] the house is currently occupied or they are unable to show the home because of an emergency that led the suspect out of town.”

Payments are required up-front. Victims are told they must pay a security deposit and first-and-last-month payments before they may see the residence.

Multiple photos of the home are then sent to the victim. The scammers have acquired the photos from the Internet or by visiting an open house and taking photos themselves, authorities said.

“The victims are usually out a few thousand dollars before they realize it’s a scam and the numbers/emails are no good,” the statement said.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Torrance Police Department at 310-328-3456.

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