Newly married Dillon and Riley Larson were ecstatic after the homeowner of small Provo house that they found online agreed to rent them out the property for the fall and winter. They were shocked when they learned the home was never for rent — and that they had just been scammed out of approximately $900.
“We looked on KSL for many different places until we found a house in Provo for $620 a month including utilities,” said Riley Larson. Because they were working in Long Island, New York all summer, they had to do their home shopping remotely.
They contacted the man renting the house, who responded quickly by sending an application and having them return it via email.
The man told them over email that he and his wife were planning on serving a mission and they wanted to rent their home to a married couple for two years.
The Larsons were informed that they had been accepted and to send the man the first month’s rent and a deposit to secure their place in the house. He then told them he would send them keys to the house after receiving the money.
“He took pictures of himself and his wife holding the package with the keys to us with our address printed on the bag,” said Dillon Larson. “He really took time to plan out this scam to the last detail.”
They waited, but the keys never came and they were informed in a phone call that they would pick up the keys the day before they moved in.
When they returned to Provo they stopped by the house they believed they would be renting, but saw that a family with all their possessions were still in the house. Confused, they knocked on the door and were informed that the family has been living there for years and the couple were not the first ones to fall victim to this scam.
“We have learned a valuable lesson and we will be careful to do things differently the next time we look for a house or an apartment,” Riley Larson said.
According to BYU Off-Campus Housing General Manager Garry Briggs, these types of scams happen frequently to students at BYU.
“We are familiar with many different types of these scams which happen in cycles throughout the year,” said Briggs.
According to Briggs, many of these scams come from individuals who live outside of the U.S. They aim to take advantage of easy targets such as new students away from home for the first time.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”
Officer Nick Depaix from the Provo Police Department is familiar with these types of scams targeting those looking to move into Provo.
“There have been quite a few of these scams reported over the last few years, which typically happen online,” Depaix said.
Depaix then gave specific things to watch for when looking online for housing.
- Never send money through Western Union or any other money order service because the money cannot be traced.
- Anyone that asks for money before giving keys or signing a contract should not be trusted.
- If the proposed renter is not willing to meet in–person, they are most likely involved in a scam.
- If it feels uncomfortable in any way, it most likely is not to be trusted. Trust the gut feeling.
“The best way to not fall victim to this type of scam is to just use your head,” Depaix said.
Students who have been victim to a scam or think they might be getting scammed can contact the BYU Housing Office or the Provo Police Department.