NEW YORK (WETM) –The New York Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection released a guide for navigating rental scams.

“Finding a place to live can be stressful enough without the added worry of being scammed, so I encourage New Yorkers to follow our tips and learn how to spot a potential scam when looking for a new residence,” said Secretary Robert J. Rodriguez.

According to the Department of State, the FBI received 11,727 complaints related to real estate and rental scams in 2022. Over $396 million was lost in these scams, which is an increase of 86% from 2020.

The guide recommends confirming that a listing is legitimate. You can do this by doing a reverse image search of the pictures from the listing to see if they appear in different listings. You can also browse real estate websites to make sure the same listing isn’t posted as being in other cities with different contact information. It’s common for scammers to steal photos from other listings for fake ones. If you find the same pictures in other listings, it’s probably a scam.

It’s also recommended to verify that the real estate agent you’re working with is licensed in New York State. You can do this by searching the Department of State’s public license database. You can also request to see the agent’s real estate license and compare the photo on the license to the agent in person or via video call.

Make sure you inspect a property before completing any background checks or signing any agreements. You should not pay any sort of advance fees or deposits before viewing a property either.

Throughout the process, you should get everything in writing and maintain a paper trail. Real estate agents are required by law to provide you with copies of all of the paperwork related to the rental/purchase. Keep this in mind when making payments, too. Always use traceable payments, like checks and credit cards, and ask for receipts. You should never pay for a property over the phone, through email, or by text message. Never use wire transfers, prepaid gift cards, or cash-based apps (like Venmo or Cash App) to make payments either.

It may be difficult to find rental properties right now, but resist the urge to give into high-pressure sales tactics. Scammers might tell you that they have other people interested to try to get you to hand over payment quickly. If you’re rushing, you probably won’t have time to do proper research and could miss a red flag.

For more tips to avoid scams, you can visit the New York Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection website, Twitter, or Facebook page.