Owners and Renters: Beware of Rental Scams

apartment rental scams
So you’re moving 2,000 miles from your hometown and it’s time to start planning. First on your list is getting a job (hopefully you’ve already done that) and now you need to find a place to live. This is an exciting change and you shouldn’t have to worry about getting scammed; but unfortunately, it is a very real possibility. Rental scams have become more prevalent in recent years, making the search for a new home even more stressful—especially when you are trying to do it from thousands of miles away. As Zillow warns, these scams can cause serious problems for landlords and the honest tenants who are hoping to rent the properties.

Common rental scams

An article on Worcester Magazine’s website explored cases of unscrupulous people renting out homes they don’t own. It’s a common tale: An owner rents their home to a tenant only to realize that their “tenant” has moved in, posed as the owner and re-rented the property to someone else. When the realization takes place, the scammer is long gone with the tenant’s money and the owner’s peace of mind.

In some cases, scammers will write up an incredible listing for a property that doesn’t exist, or the address is real but the property is not for rent. Then, after listing all of the amazing features and a super low rental price, the scammer waits for unsuspecting renters to apply for the home and shell out cash for rent and other fees, then usually disappears before the renter has even moved in.

Another common rental scam involves taking an authentic ad from a website or publication and changing the address of the home. To prove legitimacy, the scammer might even keep the name of the landlord or realtor on the ad. As is the case with the imaginary home, the scammers hope that an unsuspecting tenant will pay rent on a nonexistent property.

How to avoid falling victim

There are several things that renters can do to safeguard their money and avoid rental scams. Before you sign a contract or give anyone a dollar of your money, be sure you get tangible proof that they are in fact the owner of the property. County Assessor’s records are public, all you have to do is check the website for that particular area to make sure the name matches the address and also to verify there has been no Notice of Default issued to the property.

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is

Even though you would really love to rent a great four bedroom house for a super low price, listen to the voice telling you to be suspicious. A legitimate landlord will want to know about you and your rental needs, in order to determine if you will be a good fit for the property. On the other hand, a scammer will probably try to coerce you into giving them money and signing documents with no questions asked. This is why you have to be the one asking.

Don’t just hand over your info

Oftentimes rental scammers aren’t just after the property, they’re after your entire identity. Hopefully you already know the importance of being extremely cautious about divulging credit information with anyone. Landlords and realtors will always ask for necessary information to assess financial worthiness, sometimes even charging an application fee–this is not uncommon, but ask for business credentials before sending anything. Even if you’re not looking for a place to rent, it is recommended that you find a service to provide protection against identity theft and monitor your credit and bank accounts, just to be on the safe side.

All in all, whether you’re a renter or an owner, know who you’re working with; you wouldn’t just walk up to someone on the street and give them your wallet, so treat this circumstance the same way.