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Common Rental Scams

By Thomas Mitchell

If you are looking to rent an apartment or house, you should be aware that there are people out there who will try to swindle you. There are many types of scams that they try to pull, and we're going to cover some of them, and how to avoid being scammed yourself.

Scam artists like to play on your emotions when you're looking to rent, if you are eager and enthusiastic about finding a home to rent, you might be more likely to trust a scammer offering you a golden deal. Or if you happen to be pressed for time and need a new place fast, you might also be more susceptible to being scammed.

Rental scams are when a scammer attempts to get money from a potential renter for an apartment or property that the scammer has no legal right to rent out. The property may be real or fictitious, and the scammer could really be a landlord or they might not. A scammer might be moving out of his rental property, and pretend that he or she is the landlord. They would show the property as if they were going to rent it out, and collect all the down payments, fees, and deposits upfront and then vanish.

On the internet, a common scam tactic is to steal photos of homes that are actually listed for sale, and put up a rental listing page on sites such as craigslist. The rental price they offer for the home is almost too good to be true, and their responses to inquiries are usually written in poor English, as many of the scammers are based overseas. A common script used amongst these thieves is that they, as the "owner" of the home in question, had to leave the country for work reasons, often citing a commitment to work with a legitimate charity. They may include a crudely written "application" and tell you to ignore any For Sale signs outside the property. Once they receive a deposit, you'll never hear from them again, as they will often shut down whatever phony email address they used to communicate. In this case, the lack of phone and face-to-face communication should raise red flags from the beginning. Using sites attached to reputable firms that pull in legitimate MLS data is a way of insuring you don't come across this type of hustle.

If you want to avoid being scammed, you have to keep your guard up and stay aware. Even using a credited listing site may not fully shield you from coming across a scammer who managed to get a listing on the same site. If the process feels rushed, or seems too good to be true, you may want to re-consider your choice. Also keep an eye for red flags. If you are asked to send money before meeting anyone or seeing the property, or asked to pay unusually high deposits or a lot of upfront fees, that should be a red flag. If the landlord barely inspects you before approval and seems really eager to lease the place to you, that should be another warning sign. If the landlord makes a point of telling you that you don't need a lawyer, or that you don't need a lease, this should also raise suspicion. You don't technically need either of those things to rent, but the fact that the landlord is pushing it on you could mean there is trickery afoot. Lastly if the landlord has an all too convenient excuse for not being able to meet with you in person until after you would agree to rent, be wary.

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