Juneau’s rental market is competitive, and some people have taken advantage of the situation to scam people who are desperate for housing.
Last week, the Juneau Police Department arrested Rebecca Jo Burke for allegedly advertising a property she was not authorized to rent. Police say Burke sent photos of the fake rental to an individual and accepted an $850 deposit after they signed a meaningless lease.
KTOO’s Chloe Pleznac spoke to Lt. Krag Campbell from the Juneau Police Department to learn how people can identify and avoid rental scams.
The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Chloe Pleznac: Lieutenant, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. This month an arrest was made surrounding a scheme to collect rental deposits for fraudulent apartment listings. Has Juneau Police Department dealt with other cases related to rental fraud in the past year? How common is this particular crime?
Lt. Krag Campbell: You know, that’s the first one that I’ve heard about. I think it’s a pretty uncommon thing, at least for rental stuff, to the point where someone actually gets scammed out. I mean, I’m sure everybody’s pretty familiar with online scams through social media, advertising something fake. But as far as reports to the police department where somebody’s out money, this was the first one I’m familiar with.
Chloe Pleznac: And we know people are desperate for housing in Juneau. I know firsthand from my experience moving here this summer that finding a place to live before actually moving here, with the price of flights and ferries, it’s a really hard process. So how do potential renters protect themselves from schemes like this one? Are there specific things that they should look out for when responding to ads for rental units?
Lt. Krag Campbell: You know, I think the best bet is, if you can, try to get recommendations from people you know. But if you are answering things from online advertisements or online rentals is talk with the person, get photographs, do some research as far as who’s the owner of the property. You know, if the person is claiming they’re the owner, you can always look up the city’s assessor database to see are they the actual owner of that property. But then also make sure to — one of the biggest ones is make sure yo go there, go to the property, talk to the person who says they’re renting it, do tours inside, even talk to neighbors. Those things are all helpful just to try to make sure that yes, this person does have the right to rent this property. They have keys, they can go inside, they can do all those things. Nothing just seems out of the ordinary.
Like anything, if you just see an online ad and you respond to it or pay money to it, you don’t really know the full picture. And although this is the first rental fraud advertisement I’ve dealt with, we do figure out they get fraudulent schemes, through Facebook and things like that for job employment, people buying or selling vehicles, all those things. Just a big unknown if you’re, you’re not actually physically speaking with a person who’s renting something.
Chloe Pleznac: So what can someone do if they suspect that they might be a victim of a crime like this?
Lt. Krag Campbell: You know, the very first thing is contact the police department. Let us know so we can start looking into it on their behalf, so we can contact the other person and try to get to the other side of the story and really do some research to see if maybe, who knows, maybe it could be a legitimate rental. But we can look on the other side to see if there could be any type of fraud going on and to see if there’s a crime.
Chloe Pleznac: And are there any other known scams that Juneau residents should be cautious of at the moment?
Lt. Krag Campbell: I’ve definitely seen several scams for buying or selling vehicles online. Sometimes you get those deals, too good to be true. Someone’s selling a vehicle and they’re going to ship it from down south to Juneau at a really low price. Sometimes those things are just too good of an option or too good to be true, like I said. Jobs — people advertising some kind of online job for people. Sometimes those are just — you’ve got to do a lot more research to make sure that they are legitimate. Obviously, some of the biggest ones, too, are someone wanting to have you cash checks for them, even if they claim it’s for some specific business reason. I wouldn’t trust those things.
Chloe Pleznac: All right. That’s Lieutenant Campbell from the Juneau Police Department. Thank you so much for your insight and time.
Lt. Krag Campbell: You’re welcome. Okay. Take care.