Those looking to rent property in their city, or out of their county, state, or country, frequently find themselves the target of rental property scams. These typically occur when scammers advertize a property they wish to rent out to an interested party, in the newspaper or on the internet. The rent of these properties is usually set unnaturally low, so that the maximum number of people can be lured in. Upon being contacted by an aspiring renter, the scammers demand an upfront security deposit, followed by the promise that they will provide the key and legal documentation soon – however, these items never materialize, and at this point the “landlord” mysteriously vanishes, leaving the victim of the scam frustrated and significantly poorer. If you wish to keep yourself protected against rental property fraud, there are a number of important things you need to take into account.
- Make sure you work with certified real estate agents from established agencies, and verify all rental real estate leads, especially if you are looking to rent outside the county, state, or country. It is essential to know who you are dealing with and verify the authenticity of their claims and offers. Most scammers post their ads on Craiglist or other newspapers, copy pasting pictures of ideal-looking homes, along with their fake name and a phone number that is always untraceable.
- Be wary of advertisements by landlords who are looking for tenants on an urgent basis, as they need to move out of the country to serve as missionaries – these are almost always scams. Mistrust any advertisement that brings personal details of this sort into the picture, especially when these details allude to religion and the landlord’s supposed piousness.
- Scrutinize the English used in the advertisement. If the language and grammar is poor and incorrect, and the advertisement is riddled with spelling errors, it is almost certain to be a scam. Mistrust any emails that begin with “Dear Sir or Madam”, or those that appear to be written by someone who is trying to hard to sound like s/he is using proper, formal English.
- Never commit to a rental agreement before seeing the property. Do not rely on photos on the internet, or pictures that the “landlord” has emailed you – if you are this trusting, you will be an easy target for a rental property scam. Visit the property personally (and if you cannot, have someone you trust do this for you). Request a meeting with the alleged landlord in person, observe him/her for signs of shiftiness of nervous behaviour, and inspect the rental property carefully. It is also a good idea to speak to the neighbors and other residents in the area – ask them if they know whether the individual you are dealing with is the actual owner of the property, and how long s/he has been in possession of the property.
- Pay close attention to the instructions the “landlord” gives in regards to the payment. Scammers prefer to request payment through methods such as forwarding a cashier’s check, or FEDEX. You should also note the tone they use when requesting the payment – if they sound hurried, make it seem like it’s urgent, and pressurize you, it is likely to be a scam.