If you are looking for an apartment to rent, you are likely to head online. It is no secret that it is easy to research your rental options online. Best yet is the fact that you can do this research in minutes from the comfort of your own home. With that said, you might be a bit nervous as well. While caution is advised, you can avoid falling victim to these scams by following a few easy steps.
First, it is important to touch on a few of the rental scams you find online. The most common is an individual who claims to have an apartment or house for rent, but they do not. These frauds will steal pictures and listing information from other rentals posted online or from legitimate real estate sites. The claim the apartment is theirs to rent, but it is not. You pay them the money, often via cash or a wire transfer. Unfortunately, often it isn’t until the new tenants go to move in that they realize they fell victim to a scam that is growing in frequency.
Now that you are familiar with the most common type of rental scam, here are some apartment hunting tips that will reduce your likelihood of becoming a victim.
Make contact via phone, not email. Yes, it is easy to contact landlords via email, but this is how many scammers operate. A local landlord will use a local phone number. A long-distance phone number from another state or a “sorry I only respond to emails” is a possible warning sign that should not be over looked.
But wait! What about large corporations that own big apartment complexes. These corporations are in the business of buying, owning, and renting units sometimes in multiple states. Even still, the phone number should be a local one as this company likely has local staff members, such as a property manager, maintenance supervisor, and so forth.
Schedule a showing to see the apartment for rent with your own eyes. Even if 20 pictures are posted online, never believe anything unless you see it for yourself. Most important, you must be granted access to the inside of the apartment as well. Some scammers are smart and they will claim that they are unable to meet with you to tour the house or apartment for rent, but that you are more than welcome to drive by and get a view from the outside; this is another red flag warning sign.
Once you have seen the apartment for yourself, it is time to do a little bit of research on the landlord or company that owns the property. Never agree to a lease without getting the landlord, property manager, or company’s full name, phone number, mailing address, and email address. You will need this information anyways in the event of an emergency, but also perform a standard internet search to look for other warnings online from scam victims. First do a search with the property owner’s name, then their email address, then their mailing address, and then their phone number. It addition to any scam warnings, be on the lookout for conflicting information.