For this week’s “Tuesday’s Tips,” the New York Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection is providing tips to help avoid roommate, rental and moving scams. In the coming weeks, many students will be heading to college, vocational or graduate school programs. Incoming students have many decisions to make at the start of the academic year, and dealing with new situations can make students vulnerable to potential scams. Follow the New York Department of State on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and check in every Tuesday for more practical tips that educate and empower New York consumers on a variety of topics. Sign up to receive consumer alerts directly to your email or phone here.
“The start of a new school year is an exciting time for students as they learn how to balance their independence and responsibilities, often while living away from home for the first time, but it can also leave them vulnerable to scammers,” said Secretary of State Robert J. Rodriguez. “To help students start the new academic year safely, these scam prevention and safety tips will equip students with the information they need to spot a potential scam so they can focus more on their studies.”
In a roommate/rental scam, scammers pose as an individual selling or renting a property or as someone acting on behalf of a property owner. Potential renters are then solicited for money in exchange for promises that the homes will be shown to them or rented to them upon completion of payment. The scam is realized when there is no home for sale, or the property is already occupied.
TIPS TO AVOID RENTAL SCAMS:
Confirm that the rental listing is legitimate and verify the source of the listing. Scammers often post fake listings of properties that are not on the market, or may copy a photo or description of a property from another source to use in their ad. A few minutes of research can prevent you from putting a security deposit on a rental that’s not an option for you. To verify if a rental is legitimate:
- Visit real estate websites and see if the rental you want is also listed in another city or available on another website with a different email address.
- Run a reverse image search and see if you can find that listing anywhere on the internet. There are many reputable free online reverse image search platforms. If you find an identical listing with a different email address, that’s a red flag that it’s a scam.
Verify the identity of any Real Estate Professional. Confirm that the real estate professional you’re working with is licensed in New York by following these steps:
- Visit the NYS Department of State’s Public License Search database.
- Conduct an independent online search and check the phone number associated with their real estate license address. Call the number to verify.
- Request to see a copy of the Department of State issued photo license and arrange an in-person or video meeting to compare the ID.
Inspect the Premises. Avoid completing background checks, signing a lease agreement or paying any advance fees or deposits before having an opportunity to inspect the premises.
Be suspicious if asked to use payment methods that are untraceable. Scammers generally conduct transactions by phone, text message or email and often ask for a wire transfer, prepaid debit card, payment on a cash-based app or other method of payment that is not traceable. Instead, pay by check or with credit card and get receipts for any payments.
Request everything in writing. It is always better to leave a paper trail. Real estate professionals are required by law to provide you with copies of all instruments relating to the transaction.
Don’t give in to high-pressure sales tactics. Scammers may urge you to rent quickly before someone else gets the property, prompting you to possibly miss an important step in the evaluation process. Remember to be cautious about all the steps involved in a real estate transaction – including carefully reviewing the lease agreement and verifying the identity of those you are engaged with during the rental transaction.
Protect your privacy. Scammers often request personal information and money for background checks, then disappear. Refrain from providing personal information or your social security number unless you are absolutely sure you are dealing with a reputable business or agent.
Read more tips to identify and avoid rental scams here.
TIPS TO AVOID MOVING SCAMS:
Pay attention to bait and switch sales practices. This deceptive practice involves providing an initial misleading quote and then making last-minute changes to agreed-upon price quotes. Be wary of companies that offer instant quotes instead of gathering detailed information to provide an accurate estimate. When you receive a binding estimate, you cannot be required to pay more than that amount, unless you’ve requested additional services after.
Pay attention to deceptive business practices. Deceptive business practices include late deliveries with no advance notification, delivering damaged items, missing items, holding items hostage until consumers provide additional amounts of money or failure to fulfill any of its contractual obligations. Avoid dealing with any business that engages in these practices by doing general online research and learning your rights as outlined below.
Review all terms and conditions prior to loading. Before the movers have moved any of your items into the truck, meet with the company representative at your home to review material terms of the contract, most notably the cost and delivery terms.
Do general online research. Confirm that the moving company is an honest and reputable business with a physical address, has detailed contact information and is rated well by others in consumer reviews. Check the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) National Consumer Complaint Database or the Better Business Bureau, which has a searchable database of consumer reviews.
Hire licensed or registered movers. Before hiring a moving company, confirm that it’s a government-regulated entity.
- Moves within New York State (NYS): All moving companies must be licensed in New York. The NYS Department of Transportation licenses companies for moves statewide. To ensure that your moving company has valid New York State operating authority, contact the NYS Department of Transportation at 518-457-6512.
- Moving out of State: Make sure the mover is insured and registered with the federal government. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) registers companies that meet legal and safety requirements for moves between New York and other states. You can look up whether an interstate moving company is registered through the FMCSA’s Mover Registration Search function.
Get multiple estimates. Plan to get estimates from at least three companies. Do not rely on any estimates provided over the phone or email without any visual inventory of the items. Moving companies should be able to see the items you have and base their estimates on detailed information, including the number of items you need to move and how many movers you need.
Pay attention to hidden or additional charges. Be wary of requests for large upfront payments or full payments in advance.
Never sign a blank or incomplete estimate. Unscrupulous movers could use the blank or incomplete estimate to change the terms of your move, including the cost, without your knowledge or consent.
Get written estimates and contracts. Moving companies should give multiple documents before, during and after your move with information on the requested services, cost calculations and other agreements between you and the movers. Make sure you understand which terms in these documents are estimates, which can change later and which are contractual agreements. Scammers might try talking you out of signing written contracts if for some reason items get lost or stolen.
Create an inventory of your belongings. Make a photo record and keep a written inventory of all your items.
Know your rights. Insist the mover provide you with a Summary of Information booklet from the NYS Department of Transportation that describes your rights as a shipper. For interstate moves, the company is required to share the FMCSA’s guide, which includes details specific to interstate moves. Read these guides thoroughly to know your rights and responsibilities throughout the moving process.
Learn more about hiring moving companies. Visit the FMCSA’s Protect Your Move website for more resources on interstate movers. See the NYS Department of Transportation’s website for more information on hiring movers within New York.
Try to resolve any disputes. If you have a dispute with an interstate mover, file a complaint with the FMCSA on their National Consumer Complaint Database. If the move occurred entirely in New York State, first notify the company in writing as soon as possible. If you can’t resolve the issue with the company and the dispute relates to the loss or damage of your goods, file a complaint with DCP. For all other moving disputes, file a complaint with the NYS Department of Transportation.
Read more tips to identify and avoid moving scams here.
About the New York State Division of Consumer Protection
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection provides resources and education materials to consumers, as well as voluntary mediation services between consumers and businesses. The Consumer Assistance Helpline 1-800-697-1220 is available Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm, excluding State Holidays, and consumer complaints can be filed at any time at www.dos.ny.gov/consumer-protection.
For other consumer protection tips and consumer alerts, consumers can visit the DCP website or follow DCP on social media via Twitter at @NYSConsumer or Facebook at www.facebook.com/nysconsumer.