No one likes being tricked, fooled, or taken advantage of, but when it comes to renting a home, scams are especially damaging. Unfortunately, rental scams are quite common and scammers’ tactics are only becoming more sophisticated and difficult to detect. Victims of rental scams can lose thousands of dollars, their private information, and have to deal with the stress of multiple moves and eviction.
Our goal is to arm you with knowledge so you can quickly spot a potential scam and protect yourself.
The Common Rental Scam
There are a few common scams that anyone can fall victim to if they aren’t aware of these tactics. In the most common type of rental scam, scammers will…
1. Gain access to a home during a self-showing appointment and make a copy of the house key.
2. List the home on Craigslist or another site that allows a person to easily list goods or services for rent for a price that is well below market value.
3. Portray themselves as the property managers and guide the potential victim through a home tour.
4. Ask victims to complete fake rental applications and require security deposits, first and last month’s rent, etc.
5. Turn the keys over to the victim and walk away, taking the victim’s money and leaving them in a home they have no legitimate right to occupy.
When these scams occur, the damage can be severe:
1. Victims move into the home without realizing they’ve dealt with fraudulent parties and have no right to be in the home.
2. The real property manager may need to evict the victims.
3. The victims lose all of the money they paid to the scammers, as well as their moving expenses, and now have to find a new home (and quickly).
How to Avoid Rental Scams
There are some simple things you can do to avoid falling victim to almost any rental scam.
1. Only browse for homes through reputable sites like RentProgress.com – Listings are controlled and validated on reputable sites. Remember: scammers use sites that are not strictly monitored, like Craigslist, where they can easily list properties with no verification.
2. If it sounds too good to be true, it is – Legitimate property managers understand the fair market value of their homes and will try to stay close to the home’s actual value. Rental value is based on the neighborhood, square footage, upgrades to the home, etc., very similar to how home prices are calculated. Remember: Scammers understand they have a very short amount of time to fraudulently use the home, so they list it for as much as $500-1,500 less than what similar homes are listed for. If you see rental prices that are significantly lower than they should be, walk away.
3. Never wire money or pay in cash – Requests for cash payments or wiring money should be a huge warning sign. Remember: Reputable property managers will typically accept multiple kinds of payments and will not ask you to wire money or pay in cash. Progress Residential, for example, accepts checks, credit/debit cards, ACH and auto payment, WIPS (Walk-in Payment Systems), and payment by text.
4. Beware rental applications that look unprofessional, overly simple. Most often, scammers are after your money and identifying information like your social security number. They have no intention of performing a background check or any of the due diligence that property managers commonly perform, so they don’t need as much information. Remember: Scammers will ask you to fill out fake applications to steal personal information and make the process seem legitimate. Make sure any rental applications you receive look professional in appearance, are free from typos, list the property manager’s contact information, and include Fair Housing and American Disability logos. If in doubt, verify the information on the application through the property management website or online listings.
5. Be suspicious if there is no credit or background check. Remember: Real property managers will always perform due diligence on potential tenants, which includes running credit and background checks.
6. Look for professional credentials from the point of contact. – Your point of contact should always be able to prove who they are and who they work for. For example, all Progress Residential employees carry company ID badges and use company email addresses. Remember: If the person you’re communicating with doesn’t have an email address that matches the company URL, or claims to be a part of a rental company but doesn’t have a business card or name badge, you should call the company and verify the person you’re working with is really part of the company.
If you’ve been scammed, you’re not alone. Please contact local law enforcement and the Federal Trade Commission right away. You should also contact the website where the home was posted and report the fraudulent posting to them.
When reporting scams, it’s important to include as much information as possible. Things like email addresses, names, physical descriptions, vehicles used, and license tag numbers can help law enforcement stop the scammer. If you wired money, be ready to provide the name and address of the sender, the location from where the wire was sent, the date and amount of the transfer, the transfer fee, the date and actual location of the receipt, the name of the receiver, any information recorded regarding the receiver’s identification, the reference number for the transfer, and the details of the nature of the issue.
We hope you will take these tips and things to look for into consideration, therefore better protecting yourself from rental scams. If you have your own helpful tips, please leave them in the comments below!