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Issue #617: May 19-25, 2019

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Q: Sure wish they would run your column in the Panama City News Herald.

I pick up the weekend Daily News and saw your article about internet scams.

Here is one that is messing with folks here trying to find a place to live: rentbeforebuying.com. Just do a good search for that and read the comments. They get you and your money and then never let go.

– Cal Z.
Panama City, Florida

A: Thanks for writing, Cal. I’m flattered by the interest you expressed in the column. It’s been a while, but I.G.T.M. has published at least on the News Herald’s website in the past, if not in the print edition. Not surprising, since the News Herald, and the column’s home paper, the Northwest Florida Daily News are part of the same family of publications, under Gatehouse Media, LLC. The column was, and still is available to their editors, if they choose to publish it. I have two suggestions for you. First, if you want to see it, ask for it! Call the paper and make the request, and see if they’d care to add it to their content. Second, my column is freelance, and every issue publishes on my website the same week it appears in newspapers all over the country. Visit ItsGeekToMe.co (not .com!) where you’ll find a searchable library of every column I’ve ever published.

As you suggested, I did some looking into RentBeforeBuying.com. ICANN, the Internet Committee for Assigned Names and Numbers, which is the organization that controls and oversees the use of Internet domain names, shows that has been a valid URL since August 2018. The owner of the site has chosen to hide his or her registration information. I tried several times to visit the site, but each time my browser was redirected, including to sites that attempted to install malware on my computer, and once to Realtor.com. I Googled it, and found very little, but I did find information about a similarly-named site, RentBeforeOwning.com, and I can’t help but wonder if that’s not the site you meant to write-in about. It is older than Rent Before Buying, with an ICANN record that dates back to 2012. My point in mentioning these dates is to alleviate any fears that these could be bogus companies that were put together for the sole purpose of preying on victims of Hurricane Michael. The date of both precede the storm, so that appears to not be the case.

Having learned all of the above, I performed some Google searches on RentBeforeOwning.com. As you had said, there were a lot of negative reviews, many based on this company’s apparent business model of charging money just to look at home ads. There were also accusations that the company was appropriating ads from other realty-related sites and re-posting them on its own site.

Beyond all this was a generally negative impression being cast of the entire Rent-to-own or Lease-to-own market, sometimes called R2O. Many people hold the opinion that R2O is a scam, but there doesn’t seem to be anything inherently illegal in what the businesses are doing. That said, they often charge above-market rates for the “rent” portion of the transaction. The extra money is supposed to go toward buying the property at some point. Unfortunately, many people who are forced to resort to walking the whole R2O road cannot qualify for a mortgage, and wind up never being able to own, but all that extra money is kept by the company.

There are plenty of legal things that could qualify as scams if viewed in the right perspective, and from where this Geek sits, it appears that the Internet fuels a lot of this activity, if for no other reason than it allows even a single person to reach thousands, even millions of people at extremely low cost. The worst offenders are blatant things like the spreading of malware, or the collection of personal information, or outright identity theft. Quasi-scams like R2O are more subtle, particularly when the businesses themselves are legal. The best protection is knowledge, and you’ve done your part by helping me to share this with all my readers.

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