Rental scams are back in the news again! This is an important reminder that fraud does exist in the real estate rental market. It’s important to know the signs so you can avoid being a victim of rental fraud. Here are a few red flags to look for if you are searching for a rental.
Showings not allowed
Some rental listings will indicate that showings are not allowed. Typically, they will claim that the existing tenant is difficult and not allowing anyone in the property, or that the owner is out of the country and didn’t leave a set of keys with someone locally. In some rental markets, competition is so high that renters are willing to put down a deposit without even seeing a property. Unfortunately, doing so leaves you prone to fraud! Any listing that doesn’t allow showings should be a clear red flag that something isn’t quite right.
Contact doesn’t match owner of record
Legal owner names are a matter of public record. This information is recorded at the local registry of deeds and is often searchable via the registry’s website. Perform a search for the rental property. If the owner of record doesn’t match the name of the person offering the unit for rent, that’s a big red flag!
Requirement for cash deposits
If a landlord or agent requires a cash deposit, this is another red flag. You should never pay in cash (this includes Western Union, bitcoins, and other non-traceable cash equivalents), especially for security deposits and first month’s rent. The check that you are paying with is your proof of payment and receipt. By dealing in cash, you eliminate the added protection of a check. Legitimate landlords will accept a check for payment.
Unusually low rent
A deal that is too good to be true is usually, in fact, too good to be true. As a renter, you probably have a sense of market rental rates. Any listing that is way below the market rate should be suspicious. Scammers will list incredibly low to make it irresistible to renters. Those renters are more likely to pay to hold the unit, site-unseen, to avoid missing out on a great deal. Sadly, the scammer is probably accepting deposits from a large number of people.
Use your judgement
Ultimately, the best way to avoid getting scammed is to use your judgement and follow your instincts. If the person you are speaking with is evasive with questions or pressuring you to act quickly, it’s likely that alarm bells are going off in your head. Don’t ignore them!