One of the challenges of shopping for a new apartment is the risk of falling victim to a rental scam. You can never be sure who is on the other end of a rental listing, so it’s important to be aware of what to look for and how to detect the warning signs of a scam listing or e-mail response.
If a deal is too good to be true, it probably is. Do your research in the area so you know what the average rent for a one or two-bedroom apartment is, and accept that you’ll end up paying that ballpark range. Don’t be so intent on looking for a great deal that you become blind to the warning signs of a scam!
Another red flag warning for a scam is if the listing owner responds to your inquiry anonymously or is using an e-mail address that’s an unreadable scramble of letters. If the apartment you’re looking at belongs to a complex or is managed by another company, the e-mail address should reflect the complex or company name.
An owner, leasing agent, or property manager should always be able to tell you specific details about the apartment, such as the room dimensions, address, square footage, amenities, details of the lease etc. Watch out for responses that avoid answering the specifics.
Another warning sign is a poorly written listing or response e-mail. Grammatical errors, strange capitalization, and sentences that don’t make sense are common signs of scam listings.
Never allow yourself to be forced into signing paperwork or sending a check if you’ve never seen the apartment. Some scammers will tell you they’re sick or out of the country so they can’t show you the apartment. Make it a policy to always attend a showing before signing a lease – and if you’re hunting for an apartment from afar, it might be smart to work with an agent or contact a management company directly.
Some scammers cheat their victims by asking for payment or personal information before scheduling a fake showing. There’s no reason you need to send a copy of your ID, passport, or reveal personal financial information until you’re in the apartment application process. By then, you should have met your property manger, confirmed their identity, and seen the unit.
Scammers prefer to exchange funds through money transfers, cashiers checks, and wires because these avenues are hard to track. As a rule of thumb, stay away from listings that require these types of transactions – if it goes wrong, you may never see that money again.
Plenty of scammers have broken into vacant, bank-owned homes, changed the locks, and rented them out illegally. Cross-check the listing you’re interested in by doing a search online and seeing if you can find any information on the landlord. Look for any inconsistencies or information that doesn’t match up.
It’s easy for scammers to post on sites where they can advertise free of charge. There are many rental listings sites that require rental professionals to pay to advertise, complete profiles, or verify their business as a way of deterring scam artists. You’ll reduce your risks of running into scam listings by searching on sites that require these types of verification.
When it comes to detecting listing scams, it pays off to be knowledgeable of the warning signs, and trust your gut if something looks suspicious or feels off. If you have fallen prey to a scam or internet fraud, contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center to file a complaint.
Image by hankinsphoto.com via Flickr.