Some con artists will go to great lengths to appear legitimate, staging elaborate charades to dupe landlords and renters. They can be organized and coordinated with the fraudsters using false identities. Once they have your money they disappear.
There are 2 types of rental frauds and scams:
- Fraudulent Properties for Rent
- Fraudulent Renters looking for Property to Rent.
Fraudulent Properties for Rent
There are 2 ways a rental property could be fraudulent;
- The property is real and exists however the rental property offered does not belong to the fraudster.
- The rental property doesn't exist.
Check the facts – always verify information
- If you can, see if you can chat with someone who has rented from the same person or company in the past.
- Conduct an internet search on the property to see who may live there, and determine if there are additional rental ads for the same property.
- Check the place out in person if you can. It's always a good idea to physically see a property before any money changes hands.
- Fraudsters prey on people who are in a bind and in a hurry to find a place to rent, as emotions can make people more vulnerable.
- Ads for apartments in big cities such as Edmonton with rents significantly below market value are almost always lures used by scam artists.
- Check other listings in the general area and see what the going rates for rentals are before responding.
- Never give your social security number, even if it's just to fill out an application.
- Under no circumstances should you do business with an overseas landlord unless you have personally verified their identity and that they actually own the property advertised.
- Deal locally in person and face to face.
- Be wary if the prospective landlord only wants to communicate via e-mail.
- Be more wary if the landlord is currently out of the country or resides overseas or far from where the property is located.
- Be extremely wary if the landlord flat out refuses to talk on the phone or claims they cannot talk on the phone.
- Scan any attachments from landlords with anti-virus software before opening. One of the latest scams involves attachments contains a virus that can fool your web browser to make it appear as though you're going to a legitimate site, but in fact are being sent to a site controlled by the scammer.
- Keep your guard up, use your common sense and trust your instincts.
- If something feels wrong with a listing, the application process feels rushed, or the whole experience just seems too good to be true, it may be wise not to pursue it.
Keep your cash close
- Scammers will almost always ask for money up front, like a security deposit or first and last month's rent. If you're not sure about where it's going, don't send it. Money sent via wire service or e-transfers will be as good as gone.
- Whenever possible, try to make payments with a credit card.
- Exercise extreme caution before wiring deposits or rent payments using Western Union or MoneyGram, especially to foreign countries. Sending money in any form overseas will likely result in losing all of it. Western Union and MoneyGram are very popular for Internet scams because the funds are available instantly, untraceably and worldwide.
- If a renter dodges your questions or keeps emphasizing how it's such a good deal and you need to hand over the money ... W-A-L-K away.
- If the landlord wants a higher security deposit than what's required by law, or if upfront fees seem excessive to you, it could be a sign that the landlord wants to take your money and run.
Fraudulent Renters looking for Property to Rent
Fraudulent renters are people who come in and ask to be shown an apartment or people who do not live in the rental area send email messages asking to rent the property when they have no intention of renting.
There are 2 ways the fraudulent renter can scam you:
- They say they are moving in but they plan to use it as a rental property themselves.
- They send a fraudulent form of payment and ask you to refund some of the money due to over payment.
Check the facts – always verify information
- Again check the facts, verify the personal information.
- If you will be going out of country and want to rent your property, ensure you have someone local who you know and trust to keep an eye on your property.
- If the ‘alleged’ borrower lives out of country, do not give them your banking information. Have them wire service or e-transfer the money to an email address that is set up specifically for this purpose and not linked to your personal email.
- When you see that the money has been deposited in your bank account have your bank verify that the funds are actually in your bank account.
- Never return funds that are deposited as an overpayment. Tell the ‘renter’ you will apply it to their upcoming rent.
- Have them wire the money through Western Union or MoneyGram.
What to do if you become the victim of a rental scam
Call the police. You should let your local law enforcement know if you've been scammed. If the police have already been investigating the same scam, then any information you can add about it will be very helpful.
Contact the publisher behind the ad. If the scam originated from an advertisement, let the publisher know about what happened.
File a complaint with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
Look for a lesson and the red flags. No matter how it happened, you're not to blame for becoming the victim of a rental scam. But perhaps there was a warning sign you ignored or a way you could have been even more careful.
Share your story. Consider sharing your rental scam story. Writing about the experience (which you can do anonymously) can make you feel better. Plus, reading others' stories may help remind you that you're not alone. Rental scams happen to the best of us.