House hunting can be stressful, sometimes more so if you aren’t ready to buy and are only looking to rent. Not only to you have to find something affordable, in a convenient location, and the right size, but you also have to be weary of any rental scams. Unfortunatetly, there are people who are willing to pose as real estate agents or property managers and walk away with your deposit and firsts month’s rent.
Here are some red flags that should make you pause and reconsider the house you are looking to rent or the person you are considering renting from.
Glitchy website (non-working links or difficult to navigate). It is fairly easy for a scammer to mimic the website of a listing—making it look similar or even identical to common sites like Zillow or Tulia or even that of a property management company or bank. While mimicking a listing or two can be fairly easy, an entire site full of listings across the state and even the nation is timely and costly—so be wary of sites that are difficult to navigate, view other listings, or have links that don’t work. Before contacting anyone using the information listed, make sure you are on the correct website by checking the URL. Only use rental agencies you are familiar with.
The property has low rent, unusually low rent. As a prospective renter, you likely know what the average rates are for the size home you are looking to rent. As stated above, listing information (from the photos to the description) can be copied and display on the scammer site so it looks like the original listing agency. One common thing to change is the rent—scammers often will display a lower rent. Sometimes, its not just lower than what the true property manager is asking but much lower than the neighborhood average. This is to get as many people as possible interested in renting the property—more people to scam and more money to walk away with.
Asked to make a deposit before signing the lease or seeing the place. You are not required (ethically or legally) to make a deposit in order to see a home no matter how many people may be interested in the property. If you are asked this or a variation of paying any money up front, walk away. Quickly. And always, always see the property in person. Never sign a lease on an apartment, home, or other property without first having seen it. A landlord who doesn’t allow you to see a place, may not actually have access to a place and should be avoided.
Asked to use “modern” or “convenient” payment methods. Given the advancement of technology and that many individuals may use “cash pay” apps to send money to friends and even some businesses, scammers offer up these resources as ways to pay that are not truly legitimate for this industry. Real estate businesses require paperwork because banking and finances are involved—these institutions are required to show proof that the finances of a borrower or renter are valid and not used (or obtained) from any illegal activity—that they are not taking part in laundering money through a real estate transaction. Some private investors or homeowners managing the rental of their own property may be an exception, but even these individuals will have to provide your renting as a source of income come tax season and may be required to prove your money to pay the rent was not obtain from illicit sources. If you are asked to make your payments via Venmo, PayPal, or in cash, be very, very wary.
Your potential landlord or property manager is very pushy or overeager. Typically, when renting a home, you will have to provide general financial information (like verification of your income), employment verification, and potentially go through a background check. A landlord who forgoes some of the screening may not be a scammer but one that skips all of it should raise a small red flag. Also, if the landlord also shows an over eagerness to modify the lease or seems pushy about collecting the deposit, these behaviors should also raise some red flags. The goal with these tactics is to overwhelm you with the ease of renting or keep the process moving quickly so that you may ignore or don’t have time to notice the thought “this is too easy/this doesn’t seem right”.
Follow your instincts and listen to your gut—that along with using reputable sources for finding a place to rent should steer you clear of any scammers. Once you are moved in, protecting yourself doesn’t end! Speak with a licensed, independent insurance agent to make sure your belongings are covered in the event of a flood, fire, theft, or other event. While the home or apartment—the property itself is protected by the landlord’s insurance, your stuff is not and is up to you to get coverage for.