Springtime often brings forth thoughts of moving into a newer, closer or better apartment. Likewise, some freelancers wish to set up shop at a location outside their home, or to work from a location that is closer to their client’s headquarters.
Unfortunately, scammers are well aware of the springtime move tendency and try to capitalize on hapless renters. Here are four common apartment rental scam scenarios that you should be aware of (and avoid):
Apartment rental scams to avoid
Scenario #1: You scan the newspaper and find an apartment with many amenities at a super low rate. You call or email the owner of the property and they are more than happy to show you the apartment; however, you must first provide your personal information, such as your social security number, address, bank account numbers, birth date, etc. Once you provide this information, you never hear from the owners again.
The real deal: More than likely, you’ve just been a victim of an identity theft. The scammer is a hacker who will now attempt to access your personal records and make purchases on your credit cards and/or bank accounts.
Scenario #2: The owner in question is not available because s/he lives abroad, is a missionary, in the military, etc. However, s/he will gladly accept your application and security deposit and send you the keys (via an agent, lawyer, etc.) to the apartment once these materials are received. Once you send your application and wire the money, you never receive those promised keys or hear from the owner again.
The real deal: You’ve just had your money and identity stolen by someone who created a fake apartment rental ad. That person could in fact be out-of-state, or even out of the country. The so-called agent, lawyer, etc. is imaginary.
Scenario #3: The ‘owner’ answers your ad inquiry and even agrees to show you the apartment. You are then asked to fill out a rental agreement, provide your bank and other information, and leave a security deposit plus one or two months’ rent. When it comes time to move in, however, you find out that not only is the apartment no longer available for rent, but that the “owner” you dealt with has long since left town.
The real deal: A scammer broke into an unoccupied apartment and showed it to you as their own. Alternately, the scammer is a buddy of the actual renter/owner of the apartment and is using the place as a base of operations for his/her scam. In some cases, the scammer is an evicted tenant of the apartment and is using it to collect money from unsuspecting renters before being kicked out by the sheriff.
Scenario #4: You find a reasonably priced sublet on Craigslist and agree to take it for a few months after meeting with the current renter and landlord. You provide your information and deposit, then have trouble getting in touch with either the renter or landlord. Upon conducting some research, you learn that the real landlord not only doesn’t allow sublets, but has even disallowed Craigslist ads of rentals because of sublet scammers.
The real deal: Scammer duos pose as renters and landlords and list properties that they either have access to and/or can pretend to own. Unsuspecting renters provide their information and security deposits and may even receive fake keys. Once the transaction is complete, the scammers disappear, leaving their victims with worthless keys and no address to call their own.
How to not be a victim of an apartment rental scam
Each of the following above scenarios can be prevented if you follow a few simple protocols when apartment-hunting.
- You are not required to provide any of your personal or financial information, nor any money, as a condition of viewing an apartment.
- You should never wire money to anybody, ever, and especially not without first viewing the property.
- If the actual property owner does in fact live overseas, use your credit card or Paypal to secure your claim on the property. Reputable owners will often ask that you use a verified third party rental website to place a deposit.
- Before providing anything to an ‘owner,’ check with the city/county website and verify actual ownership.
- When dealing with a potential owner via Craigslist or other ad, call the listed phone number and talk to the person one-on-one. Verify everything that the owner emailed to you to ensure that his/her email wasn’t compromised.
- Be leery of owners who appear too eager to rent their apartment to you, or who don’t care about your background screening or whether or not you can sign a lease.
- Don’t believe that any owner would rent their place remotely- most owners want to actually see their renters before saying yes to them. Alternately, absentee landlords will entrust their property to a local real estate management company.
- If an apartment is priced far below the price points of its neighbors, there could be a scam afoot.
- If you must pay money, use your credit card, Paypal, or a verified apartment pay website. Never pay with cash or personal check. Never wire money to anybody.
The FTC provides additional information on apartment rental listing scams and how to spot them.
What if you become a victim of a rental scam?
If you do unknowingly become the victim of an apartment rental scam, you should first contact the police. In such situations, legal authorities may already be aware of the scam, and your testimony might help solve the case and catch the culprits.
If you answered an ad, get a hold of the publisher and notify him/her of the issue. Again, the publisher may have additional information on the scammer that could be provided to the police.
By taking the above noted steps, you’ll not only provide valuable clues to authorities, but you’ll help warn others about the scam.