In today’s online world, scammers are always finding new and imaginative ways to separate you from your money. Unfortunately, the world of real estate rentals is no exception. These cruel criminals will research properties and, posing as the owner, place ads on social media sites like Craig’s List, advertising the property for rent. Some will copy and paste rental ads and post them at a lower price to try to make fast money by stealing yours and some actually rent properties themselves in order to pretend to rent them to others to collect cash. Below are some red flags to be aware of when renting property to help avoid getting ripped off:
Missing or traveling landlords. If you are told that the landlord is out of the country or otherwise unavailable to show you the rental property, move on. Being asked to rent a property without seeing it is a huge red flag.
Wire transfers or cash payments. If you are asked to wire transfer money, say no. Your money may be transferred to an obscure account in another country and lost forever. Requests for cash is another red flag. You may be told something like a cash payment is required for viewing the property due to travel time for the property manager or the security deposit needs to be in cash. Refuse and move on.
You’re offered a great price! We know the adage, if it sounds to good to be true . . . it probably is. If you’ve seen an ad for a great rental at a “crazy-low”, “once in a lifetime”, “must rent today” price— beware.
The landlord doesn’t care about your background. If you meet a landlord who is ready to rent to you right away, without asking any questions about you or requesting any personal information like a credit, employment verification or criminal background check, you may be dealing with someone who just wants your money. Since landlords’ property is their source of income, most landlords do care about their property and who will be living there.
You feel rushed: If you feel pressure to decide right away, step back and walk away. You might hear something like there are four other people waiting to rent the property or that the landlord must leave town tomorrow. Scammers use this tactic to get your money fast. If the landlord seems way too eager and makes you uncomfortable, better to be cautious and not cave to pressure.
High extra or upfront fees. If a landlord or property manager requests high upfront fees or an unusually high security deposit, especially before a legal lease is reviewed, beware. Most legitimate landlords or will require an application fee, but it is usually around $100. Be very wary of any other high fees required.
Grammatical Errors. Even while we all make spelling or grammatical mistakes on occasion, if you see broken English or other easy to spot grammatical, spelling or structural sentence errors in rental ads, there’s a good chance they are fakes.
The Bottom Line. You cannot be too cautious when looking at rental ads. If you feel like something isn’t quite right or it sounds too good to be true, trust that you should move on. Before considering renting, check out the property to find information on the legitimate owner. You can do this by contacting the local city or towns’ Assessors Office or Recorder of Deeds. You can also talk to neighbors; they may be able to provide information about the landlord or the property. Working with a local, reputable real estate company may be your best bet to help you to find a legitimate rental property.