Searching for a new rental property is generally among one of the more time consuming efforts we undertake during our adult lives. As you go about looking for a suitable apartment, you’ll want to avoid the scams that can often plague even the most skeptical of us all.
According to the National Rental Home Council (NRHC), scammers use a variety of techniques to get people’s money. Some may list a property that’s already leased and then try to collect the application fees or security deposits. Others may hijack a real estate listing by posing as a realtor.
Having some basic knowledge about the scammers and their tactics is a must-know for everyone, especially because your rental experience can become a financial and emotional disaster if you don’t prepare to enter the market.
This comprehensive 3-step list will help you avoid rental scammers when looking for the perfect place.
1. Do an Online Search of the Rental Company
First things first. You’ll want to search the rental company and the realtor to make sure they are legitimate professionals. In a Google search, enter in their name along with the word review, complaint or scam. If you find a bad review, it’s highly recommended that you look elsewhere.
Since you’ll always want to trust the realtor you’re working with, you can also use a service like MyLife. They have over 320 million verified Reputation Profiles that include a Reputation Score to see if someone is trustworthy. All you have to do is enter in the name of the realtor to see if they have a history of illegal scamming or any other shady business. Before signing a lease, go for a walk through the property with the owner or realtor. Look for signs with the name of the property owner or manager to help ensure it’s a legitimate rental deal.
2. Check the Property Listing
If the realtor and the company you looked up had a verified and legitimate business website, then you can also check the property listing. Rental home listings often appear in several places online, including the rental company’s website and online posting services like Trulia, Zillow or Craigslist. If you see a rental company’s listing on one of these online services, make sure to complete a search for the home’s address to ensure that it appears on the realty company’s website. If not, it could be a scam.
You should also compare the prices of the rental property with other rental properties in the area. If the price is much lower than other rents, this is likely a red flag. MyLife will also allow you to search by address. Just enter the address and you’ll see who lives there, and others who are connected to that address.
3. Never Pay in Cash, Wire Transfers or Gift Cards
Next, call that company before making an offer on the property to read an official lease and make sure their name is on it. It’s important to never pay in cash, wire transfers or gift cards. If a supposed professional tells you to pay this way, this is a sure sign of a scam. For scammers, cash only deals are the most popular ways of performing shady operations because the money cannot be traced. Wiring money is like sending cash — once it’s sent, you can’t get it back. Additionally, remember that gift cards are for gifts, not payments. Any legitimate real estate professional or landlord will not ask you to pay in this way. If you do spot a potential scam, report it to local law enforcement and the FTC.
Sticking to this solid three-step approach to avoid rental property scams is essential. Once you do your due diligence in vetting the property manager and/or realty company, you can feel assured that you’re using a legitimate source to help lease your new home.