Let’s say you’re online looking for a new place to rent, and sure enough, you spot a wonderful location. The property looks nice, the price is affordable, and it is in walking distance to a number of businesses and locations that are attractive to you. It looks like the hunt is over, and after a brief conversation with the landlord via email, they’re ready for you to sign a lease. It’s a dream come true!
Fast forward to moving day. You pull up to the location in your truck ready to move in, and someone approaches you with a puzzled look. After a short conversation, you realize the new apartment or house that you put a deposit on isn’t owned by the person you originally talked to. Not only have you been scammed out of your deposit, but you now have nowhere to live.
This probably sounds like a nightmare, right? Believe it or not, this very scenario happens to millions of Americans every year, according to a report done by apartmentlist.com. So, the big question is, how do you spot these scams before going down this awful road? Here are a few red flag indicators to look for that’ll help you discern that information.
1. Avoid landlords who will only accept cash deposits.
It’s common for landlords to request payment via check, direct bank deposit, or even third-party online portals. However, when they request to be paid in cash, or even to be wired money through places like Western Union, it should raise some suspicion. Paying in cash or bank wires is not easy to trace back, and once that money is in their hands, it’s theirs. Direct deposits and checks are easy to trace so scammers will avoid these like the plague, and opt for the difficult to trace options. Keep this in mind, and if you encounter a landlord demanding cash or money wires, it might be best to steer clear (especially if they don’t accept the payment methods that are easy to trace).
2. Never sign a lease until you see the property.
This may seem like a given, but there are times when you need to find a place RIGHT NOW! Desperation mode can cause you to overlook obvious red flags like signing a lease to a property you’ve never seen in person (especially when moving to a new geographic location). Look out for the landlord who is telling you that the place has high interest and it will get leased so you have to act “NOW!” This is a common tactic used to help you make bad decisions, and it’s important to stay the course and take your time. Because once they have your money and the “lease” is signed, they have you.
Another common tactic would be collecting your money after promises of new cabinets, new hardwood floors, a new roof, new furnace, and a white picket fence. Then you get to the place only to find a broken-down, roach-infested apartment with warped floors and utilities that aren’t even running. Always ask to see the property in person, and avoid it like the plague if the “landlord” refuses. Drop the mic and walk away.
3. Make sure to do your own background check.
Always stay curious, and never take anything at face value (we don’t mean to say that you should live in FEAR, but it’s important to look into things a bit). This would have to be our best piece of advice for identifying fraud. If you see a listing somewhere, look around on Google to see if it appears elsewhere. If the listing is legitimate, you’ll probably see the same, or extremely similar, listing on other sites. But if you happen to see the same listing with vastly different information (description, photos, location), then it is very possible that the listing you were originally viewing could be a fake. Always stay curious.
Thankfully in today’s day and age, consumers are getting smarter, and are using the tools at their disposal to avoid being taken advantage of. However, scammers are taking this into consideration, and are always upgrading their tactics to fool the consumers. Their tactics might evolve but they still usually showcase the same red flags. If you have proof of a rental scam happening (or are skeptical), contact the website owner to let them know so they can double-check the listing and make sure it is legitimate.
We hope this information helps you avoid horrifying issues down the road!