Unforuntately, numerous unsuspecting apartment hunters become victims of common rental scams when searching for a great deal on a place. Lured by bargain prices and fooled by conniving crooks, these swindled rental property-seekers will wind up losing their money and feeling undeserved shame.
However, you don't have to let yourself be tricked by a sneaky con artist. There are many ways to avoid becoming a victim of a carefully-calculated rental scam.
Do Your Research
The best way to avoid falling victim to a rental scam is to keep yourself informed. The more you know, the less vulnerable you will be. Knowledge is certainly power, so be sure to gather sufficient information regarding the following:
- Research common red flags of scams so that you can recognize when you might be presented with one. There are many signs that will point to a possible scam, and being aware of these will protect you from being fooled.
- Research the landlord. Ask for identification, and then check the local government website for property records. Search the address of the rental you are considering, and verify that the name on the ID you were given by the landlord matches the owner of the property.
- Contact the property management company. If the unit you are interested in 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 attempting to rent you the apartment is actually the owner of the property and if they have the authority to rent it to you.
- Research the going rental rates in the area. Most scammers will list properties at unusually low rates to entice potential tenants. Knowing the typical cost of rent in the area will allow you to recognize when an amount is too good to be true. You should also be aware of the standard fees associated with renting and the amount typically required for a security deposit--con artists will often hike these costs up to squeeze as much money out of their victims as possible before skipping town.
The more questions you ask, the more assured and knowledgeable you will seem to the scam artist. These swindlers refer to prey on ignorance and naiveté, so be sure to demonstrate that you know your stuff. Ask detailed questions about the property, such as how old it is, if utilities are included, when rent is due, what the conditions are for return of your security deposit, etc. The more details you inquire about, the more likely you are to catch the scam artist off guard or pick up on contradicting and/or vague responses. If you portray yourself as assertive, inquisitive, well-informed of the rental process, and sure about what you are looking for in a place, he or she may realize you will not be easily fooled.
View the Property in Person
This is the best and easiest way to avoid becoming victim to a scam! While scam artists can still work out schemes that involve showing a property in person, checking out a property firsthand before sending any money can protect you from about 99 percent of scams. While this does not ensure that the property you are viewing is actually legitimately available for rent, it certainly makes the possibility of a scam less likely. In this case, you should still check public records to ensure the person showing you the apartment is actually the owner of the property. If not, you should find out the name of the owner, and contact him or her to verify that this person has the authority to rent out the property on their behalf.
Don't Give Out Personal Information.
If you respond to a listing and the alleged owner of the property requests personal information for a credit check through online correspondence, this is a definite red flag. Sending bank information, Social Security numbers, or other personal data to a faceless landlord online is an easy way to become a victim of identity theft.
Don't Send Any Money!
If the owner of the property responds to your inquiry and requests that you wire the payments for the first and last month's rent, security deposit, or other fees right away, it is a clear sign of a scam. A property owner will not be so overly eager to rent out the apartment to a tenant, and you should never send any money without viewing the place first. While this does happen in legitimate cases, it is not wise to pay for something you have never seen, nor send money to a person you have never met and have no reason to trust.
What to Do if You Are Scammed
Call the police
If you have fallen victim to a rental scam, you should notify authorities immediately. They may be able to apprehend the scam artist and have your money returned. Additionally, you may not be the only victim. If the police are already investigating scams conducted by the same offender, your information will help them catch the criminal responsible.
Contact the FTC
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is a consumer protection agency where you can file a complaint and aid in the prevention and investigation of rental scams. You can file your complaint by calling the agency at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). Your complaint will be entered into the agency's Consumer Sentinel--an online database accessible to over 1,500 criminal and civil law enforcement agencies nation-wide. Your participation could aid in the arrest of a scam artist, resulting in the possible return of your money. It will also prevent future unsuspecting renters from falling victim to the same unfortunate circumstances.
Contact the publisher of the listing
If the property was listed on an apartment rental website or a classifieds network such as Craigslist, contact the company to notify them about the scam. Most of these companies take scams very seriously, and would wish to know about fraudulent activity being conducted in their listings. Most companies will have a customer service phone number you can call, or an online form you can use to submit your complaint.