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Column: Don't be fooled by phony landowners

Dan Hendrickson is communications coordinator with the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota.

With summer moving along quickly and a new school year not too far off on the horizon, many college students are planning on moving on from college dorms — or their parents' homes — to find apartments or rental homes for the school year and beyond. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota is reminding students of the importance of doing their homework to ensure online listings for rental properties are legitimate and avoid falling victim to scams.

In an effort to help students avoid rental scams, BBB has compiled some helpful information and tips for those who are beginning their search for rental properties.

Renters should always take the following steps before signing a lease:

• Follow the first rule of real estate: Location, location, location. Does the location make sense in terms of your day-to-day life? Consider your commute to work or school and also your access to grocery stores, shopping and restaurants.

• Visit different rental units in person and be sure to research their backgrounds by visiting bbb.org. You can also access customer reviews through BBB and other online sites, to get a sense of the experiences past tenants have had.

• Always read the lease carefully and ask any questions you have prior to signing the lease.

Prospective enters should be wary if:

• The deal sounds too good to be true. Scammers will often list a rental for a very low price to lure in victims. Find out how comparable listings are priced, and if the rental comes in suspiciously low, walk away.

• The landlord claims to be located elsewhere and prefers to communicate solely via email. Scammers might say they've been transferred outside the country for a job or missionary work — don't believe it.

• An online listing has grammatical or spelling errors.

• You're asked to wire money through wire transfer services such as Western Union or MoneyGram, or if you're told the deposit or rent needs to be paid with a prepaid debit card.

• The rental requires a security deposit or first month payment without meeting the landlord, inspecting the property or signing a lease.

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