Searching for a new apartment is never easy. There are so many things to consider. How many bedrooms do you want? Is the property pet-friendly? And a question that is becoming more and more important: is the listing even real?
The Internet abounds with rental scams, and if you’ve been looking for a place to live recently, no doubt you’ve seen at least one. Some can be easy to spot, but others can be devilishly sneaky. However, there are a few consistent aspects to a rental scam that can help you avoid them.
First of all, the scammer will never give you a tour (although one may be offered). You will never meet a real person. Avoid putting down any money or sending any personal information before someone lets you inside the property. If you are given a tour, that means the person you are talking to has the key—something a scammer can’t get.
Most scams are designed to mine for profitable information, which is why you need to hang onto your personal details until you’re sure something is the real deal. The rental application they provide may ask for odd bits of personal information, like a driver’s license number, a photo, or even a credit report. While some of these might be OK and even standard to give out, at the very least only hand them over to a person you have physically met. By sharing this kind of information online, you may end up with fraudulent credit card charges or even full-on identity theft.
A few of the scams I have personally encountered gave fairly compelling reasons why an inside look at the property was off the table. One claimed that the owner recently had a medical emergency and was still recovering. Another suggested filling out the application, along with bogus credit check, ahead of time, because it would be a week until the owner came back from a business trip to show the property. When you really need a new place it’s easy to fall into these sorts of traps, but you must remain vigilant.
When it comes down to it, the easiest way to spot a rental scam is simply to apply a healthy dose of skepticism. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Scam listings will often undercut market prices by several hundred dollars to get more attention. They will offer fresh remodels with your choice of paint job. Pay attention to the pictures with the listing. Often they will directly contradict the scammer’s description. Try copy/pasting some of the text from the response email of a suspected scam. If you get a match in Google, other people have seen that exact same email, and it’s definitely a scam.
Heading out protected against these criminals is the quickest way to find your new place. Happy hunting!
By Kyle Bunnell