How to Spot and Avoid a Rental Scam

How to Spot and Avoid Rental Scams

As you may recall from my very first blog post, my boyfriend and I almost got scammed during our eagerness to find an apartment in Burlington. What happened was this:

We found a beautiful place on WalkScore.com that seemed very reasonably priced. After emailing back and forth with the “realtor,” he urged us to make up our minds quickly about the apartment because others were competing for the place and he couldn’t guarantee us a spot (first red flag). We then signed a “lease” and sent over a hefty “deposit” and “first month’s rent” for the place. Luckily, and I really stress the luck that saved our asses in this situation, we wrote the address of the place on the memo of our wire transfer and luckily a woman who had almost been scammed from the same address one week earlier had called her bank to notify them about the scam. The lady’s banker, out of sheer kindness and zero obligation, froze the payment and called my bank who called me and let us know what was up. Disaster avoided due to a series of fortunate events. Here are a few things to keep in mind when trying to spot and avoid a scam:

1. Pay Attention to the Price. This is probably the best known way to avoid a scam, and yet some idealists still fall into the trap. If you see an apartment in a very expensive area that stands out as being several hundred dollars cheaper than the surrounding apartments, that should be a red flag. Similarly, pay attention to the apartment photos. The general rule of thumb should be, if the price seems too good to be true, then it probably is.

2. Search the Address. When you see an apartment listed on a website prone to scams like WalkScore.com or Craigslist, search the address of the place listed to check if other sites list it as available and also to see if the photos match. The apartment we almost lost our money on in Burlington turned out to already have tenants; but when we searched the building’s address, we found an apartment in the same exact building and the photos were way different. When in doubt, contact the realtor that shows multiple units available in the same building. That person is likely to be the real deal.

3. Creep on Your Realtor, Hardcore. This is no joke. Perform a LinkedIn search on your realtor’s name. Search the phone number they give and see if it matches up. If you’re emailing, absolutely search the email’s IP address, because a scammer’s IP address will very often be flagged by others online. If it’s not flagged, but you see that someone who says they’re living in Phoenix is actually emailing from an IP located in France or Nigeria, or anywhere abroad, this is a big red flag. Lastly, check to see if your realtor has reviews to back up their credibility.

4. NEVER Send a Deposit Before Viewing. Sending a deposit before we even viewed the apartment in Burlington was essentially our dumbest mistake. If the person trying to rent you a place is urging you to send a deposit before you can view the place, insisting that you could lose your spot (scammers are very good at motivating you with fear), that is a red flag. No credible realtor would ask you to do this, know that.

5. Know How to Handle a Scammer. In the event that you do spot a scammer before it’s too late, you might feel the urge to get angry or call the person out for what they are. Do not do this. After almost losing my money to the man who tried to scam us in Burlington, I had the same urge, and it’s a bad idea. There are people out there who engage in Scam Baiting, and those people are heroes in my book. Still, scammers are criminals and should be treated as such – it is dangerous to taunt them. If you shame or blow up at a scammer, you could encourage them to find whatever information is out there about you and use it against you for pure revenge. When we signed our fake lease, my boyfriend and I both gave our driver license numbers and were therefore at risk. Luckily, nothing happened and it seemed that our scammer only wanted the money. If you find out about your scammer after already giving your social security number or similarly sensitive information, you should notify your bank, file a police report, and invest in an identity theft security program like LifeLock.

So those are my tips, and since our first near-scam encounter, my boyfriend and I have followed taken all the above precautions and avoided scam since. Good luck on your apartment hunt, and stay safe!

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