This lock box rental scam is here to stay. Here’s how to avoid it

Scammers have been stealing victims’ money for years through fraudulent real estate listings.
Published: Mar. 17, 2023 at 10:29 AM EDT|Updated: Mar. 17, 2023 at 3:17 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Think of Zelle, Venmo, or any peer-to-peer app as a highway. Its sole purpose is to move cash from one financial institution to another. It is a cash transaction, and unlike credit cards, if you send the money to the wrong individual, the money is likely gone forever.

That’s why scam artists love it.

Some scams come and go, but as long as landlords and property managers continue to use lock boxes to give prospective tenants self-guided tours, the rental scam is here to stay. Better Call Harry received its first such complaint back in 2018.

Scammers are still at it, and here’s how they do it.

When property rental listings go online, a scammer copies the listing and uses the same information and pictures to create another fraudulent listing.

They lower the monthly rent to lure victims and replace the property owner’s phone number with theirs.

A victim who contacted Better Call Harry said she scheduled a self-guided tour. When she got to the house, she was instructed to use the front door’s lockbox.

“I was given a code to enter the house and received an application,” she said. “I filled out the application and made a deposit of $750 through Zelle. The landlord told me his name was Michael Smith.”

The victim lost her money.

Takeaways on preventing a rental fraud

  • If you find a rental property listing in which you are interested, Google the address to see on what other sites it appears. If the rent is $2,500 on one site but $1,500 on another, the lower priced property may be a fraud.
  • Require an in-person meeting with the realtor, landlord, or property manager. If this listing is fraudulent, a scammer will try and convince you they don’t have to meet you, or won’t meet you.
  • If you rent the property, meet with the owner or manager face-to-face. If you sign a lease and make a deposit, only do so in person. A $1 test payment is recommended.

For more information on renting a home, check out this link to the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Division.


If there’s something you would like Atlanta News First’s Consumer Investigator Better Call Harry to look into, fill out this submission form.