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Most prospective tenants find a new rental through online listings, and there’s no wonder that the market has seen an unprecedented increase in the number of online rental scams. As technology develops, it becomes harder and harder to distinguish a scam from a real rental listing, so we’re here to give you some tips and tricks on how to spot online house rental scams, and save your pocket and personal data.
First of all, you will want to check out the advertiser. Scammers often present themselves as representatives of rental management companies, real estate agents, or landlords. They often use fake names or impersonate professionals, so it is always good to do a background check. For instance, if they are a real estate agent, they should appear on the MLS list of licensed realtors, and sometimes be affiliated with a larger company. If the person recommends themselves as a landlord, however, it may be a bit harder to figure out if their intentions are legit. You could always check social media profiles under that name, and make sure that the person is indeed the individual they are claiming to be. If the person presents themselves as an agent of a rental management company, you can always double-check the company website for information about employees.
What does the listing look like?
- Many scammers use photos of real properties which they appropriate and repost. You should perform a Google search of the property image and check if the same listing appears for different towns.
- Does the listing include a real, complete address? If it only includes the general area, you may be looking at a fake ad.
- You may also want to check whether the pictures of the surroundings actually fit the address. A Google Maps search can work to your advantage!
What is the rental price?
In the attempt to allure as many interested applicants as possible, scammers may list rentals at prices that are ‘too good to be true’. If you know that a 3-bedroom house rents in your area for $1,300, you should be skeptical of an ad for only $650! Knowing the rental market value is key to avoiding dubious ads, and you can easily find it out by browsing for the rent value of similar properties in the area.
How is your rental application progressing?
After checking all background data, let us assume you have decided to apply for a specific rental listing. You can determine if you talk to a scammer instead of a legit landlord or manager if one or more of the following scenarios occur:
- You are asked to wire money before the application procedure actually starts. Alternatively, you are asked for the security deposit before you view the place.
- The ‘landlord’ refuses to let you view the property on grounds of being out of town or out of the country.
- The emails and text messages of your future ‘landlord’ contain sloppy English; scammers can come from all over the world!
- Your contact provides inconsistent information about the property or avoids responding to questions about the property.
- Your ‘landlord’ asks for a considerably lower security deposit than the normal rate (either one or two months of rent).
- If there is a codebox in place, your “landlord” asks you to circumvent the use of the codebox when viewing the home.