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Common Rental Scams

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When you search for an apartment, potential landlords will want to check your credit, contact references, and conduct a background check to ensure that you are an honest and reliable tenant. However, you have to be just as stringent and aware of dishonest and disreputable landlords! There are many conniving scam artists out there, waiting to trick trusting apartment hunters into handing over large sums of cash before skipping town--and leaving the unsuspecting victims out of money and without an apartment.

The following are some of the most common scams in the rental industry, some tips on how to recognize scam artists, and some suggestions on what to do to protect yourself from them.

Posing as the landlord

In this scam, a tenant with a lease that's up is planning to vacate their apartment. The scammer may not even live there at all, but gains access to a vacant unit somehow. They pose as the landlord of the property and show the apartment to interested renters. They will then proceed to collect the first and last month's rent, security deposit and other fees from numerous prospective tenants, before moving out of the apartment and disappearing with the money.

Renting on behalf of the landlord

In this scam, the con artist may even not reside at the property. They will claim to be showing the apartment on behalf of the owner, who they will claim to be sick, overseas, or too busy to handle the process. As with the previous scam, the culprit will vanish with first and last month's rent payment, security deposits, and other money given by interested renters before skipping town. The victim will then realize that not only was the alleged landlord not entitled to rent the property, but the property may not even be up for rent. The owners may be on vacation, or it could be a vacant or foreclosed property.

Online rental scams

These scams take place solely on the internet, on anonymous websites such as Craigslist. The scammer will post pictures of a property with an address and wait for inquiries from interested renters. Unsuspecting victims will then wire the scam artists first and last month's rent and a security deposit without even viewing the property first.

Identity theft

In this case, the alleged landlord requests a credit report, bank account numbers, or other personal details and then uses the information for fraudulent purposes. If you respond to any online listing and the poster requests personal data before you even view the property and without an official application, you are most certainly an intended scam victim.

Common Red Flags to Watch Out For

There are many signs that point to a possible rental scam or illegal operations. The following are some particularly notable red flags of which you should be aware:

The price is too good to be true.

If the listing promises an apartment for a shockingly low monthly rent, there is probably a good reason. Scam artists' main objective is to entice apartment hunters into inquiring about the property. The better the bargain, the more responses they will receive and the more opportunities they will have to scam unsuspecting renters out of their money. It's a good idea to do your research on typical rental rates in the area you are searching so you will be able to recognize an unusually low price when you see one.

You're asked to send money without viewing the property.

You should not send any potential landlord a large sum of money without first seeing the apartment. Not only do you want to ensure that it is a legitimate property, but verify that the apartment is in good condition and has the same features as the photographs you have viewed. Not following this rule accounts for nearly 99 percent of rental scams--always view before you rent!

You're told you don't have to sign a lease.

A lease is a binding legal document, meant to protect both you and your landlord. If you are being pressured into taking an apartment without signing a paper, it could be a sign that something suspicious and illegal is going on.

You are asked to pay an unusually large amount of fees and a high security deposit.

If the landlord requests an exorbitant amount of money upfront, this could be a glaring red flag. If a con artist is planning to grab your money and run, they will attempt to milk as much out of you as possible. Research is your friend--find out the going amount for security deposits and fees associated with renting in your area so you know when you might be getting scammed.

The landlord is overly eager or aggressive.

Scam artists are often very persuasive. If you sense any high-pressure sales tactics or extremely pushy behavior, you should be wary. A reputable landlord will not be extremely eager to rent his or her property to any potential tenant--he or she will be cautious, ask questions, and want to conduct a thorough background check to ensure that you are a trustworthy renter. A scam artist only looking to take your money and run won't care about any of that--he or she will only be interested in convincing you to hand over your cash.

What You Can Do

When hunting for an apartment, the most important thing to remember is to be cautious and aware. Never act hastily and always trust your instincts. Plus, a little research goes a long way-- educating yourself and being informed is the best way to protect yourself from conniving scam artists.

Verify the owner of the property on a government website.

Ask the landlord for identification. Check the local government website for property listings and search the address of the rental you are considering. Verify that the name on the ID you were given by the landlord matches the owner of the property listed on the website's record.

Ask a lot of questions.

The more you know, the less vulnerable you will be. Ask detailed questions about the property, such as how old it is, when rent is due, what the conditions are for return of your security deposit, etc. The more specific questions you ask, the more likely you are to catch the scam artist in a lie or catch them off guard. Also, if you seem to be assertive and knowledgeable, he or she may move on to a more easily persuaded and submissive victim.

Contact the property management company.

If the apartment is part of a complex, find out the name of the company that manages the property and call them. You can ask them if the person you are dealing with is actually the owner of the property or if they have the legitimate right to rent the apartment to you. You should be able to find the contact information of the property management company posted somewhere on the premises, or by contacting your city or county government.

Nicole La Capria  Posted by Nicole La Capria on June 26, 2013

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