12 Ways You Can Spot a Rental Scam
Sadly, we all know that scammers are out there. It doesn't seem to matter what you're looking for - a rental, a mate, a car, an investment, etc. Scammers are out there and they are constantly looking for ways of taking what doesn't belong to them (your money!). Let's examine ways you can spot a potential rental scam so you don't get bit!
No Human Contact: scammers oftentimes will conduct their scams online via chat or email. If you ask to speak with them and they're hesitant, beware. I tend to begin my Leesburg rental contacts online but within a short time, I'm handing out my contact information as well as how to get in touch with my realtor.
It's Too Good to Be True: think back to the old saying, "if it's too good to be true, it probably is" - there's a lot of truth in that! Let's say you're looking for a 3/2 rental in a gated community and you know they typically rent for between $1200 - $1500 in your area. If suddenly one appears that looks incredible for $700, put yourself into cautious mode! Yes, it might be true (slim chance), but chances are, a scammer is trying to work their magic.
Error-Filled Contacts: many scammers are based overseas - they're not even in the town, state, or country where you're trying to rent. While they may have the logic of the scam they're trying to pull figured out, they may struggle with grammar and spelling. Honest people can make mistakes, true. But if an email or message you receive seems full of errors, beware.
Email Address: let's say you're looking at a rental on Apartments.com and you receive an email from someone claiming to be from them at Apartmentscom@gmail.com or some other variation but similar. Chances are it's a scam. Most businesses would have their own domain name like we do here www.leesburg4rent.com and they may even have their own email addresses set up for that domain (I'm still in the process of doing that).
Send Me Money / Wire Money / Send Me Gift Cards: something that seems to be happening more and more with rentals now is a supposed property manager telling you they're out of the area. They may suggest you go and see the place on your own from the outside and may even tell you to peak in the windows. That in itself scares the daylights out of me! After you see the place and say you like it, they may try telling you to send them a certain amount of money (cash, a wire, or in gift cards) so you can be sure to be the selected renter. RUN! This is a classic scammer move. You haven't met the person, you haven't seen the inside of the rental, and they want you to send them money? Don't risk it - find something else!
Cash is King: some scammers are more brazen than others. While some avoid human contact at all cost, others don't hesitate to meet you in person. I recently read an article about a person that handed over cash to secure a rental. The landlord insisted that cash was all they'd accept and the person was feeling desperate as they needed to be out of their place quickly. They signed a lease and thought everything was fine. What they didn't realize was the lease they signed was with the current tenant who was in the process of being evicted and was angry about their situation! When the person came back thinking it was time to move in, the evicted tenant was long gone and so was their money. The lease they signed turned out to be a document the scammer found on the internet. If you are asked for cash, beware. A check can be traced to where it was cashed / deposited. Cash can't be traced and scammers know it.
Minimal Information Needed: I know that for me to feel comfortable renting to someone, I need their information to do credit, background, and rental history checks. I ask for proof of identification, proof of employment, and proof of funds before I'll agree to sign a lease. Remember, the main goal of a scammer is to get your money! They may be telling you that "the place is yours" before they know anything important about you (possibly all they know if your name and email address). Does that sound right to you? Trust your instincts - it's not!
Pressure, Pressure, Pressure: have you ever felt like you were being pushed into something before you really got to think it through? Rental scammers will try to convince you that if you don't act on something right away (and give them money), you'll miss out. That may be true in a hot market - I know it is here in Leesburg Florida. However, if you are feeling like you're being pushed into making a decision before you're ready, it may be best to walk away.
Information They Don't Need: once you decide you want to rent a place, there are certain pieces of information you'll be asked to provide in order to run credit, background, and rental history checks. This includes your contact information, driver's license number, social security number, date of birth, information on your employer, and information on your previous landlords at a minimum. Are you being asked to provide something else that doesn't make sense, like your bank account information, PIN number to access your bank accounts, copies of your credit cards, etc? That sounds fishy to me. If a property manager wants to see that you have the funds available to lease an apartment, I understand that. However, I'd be hesitant of providing them with all of my bank information in order to establish that I have the funds to rent; I'd probably print out my recent bank statement but eliminate / cross off my account numbers.
Unclear Description: if a person truly is a property owner, property manager, or landlord, they'll know the property they are trying to rent out very well. Typically they'll spend time writing out a detailed description so that potential renters can get an idea if a property is "a fit" before going to see it. Scammers won't know much about the property because they've never seen it in person, so they'll write vague descriptions hoping to grab the interest of people to get a dialogue going and to be able to build their scam through online communication. If a description is vague or unclear, be leary.
Check the Pictures: one of the things scammers do is grab pictures off of valid websites like the MLS (multiple listing service) and then claim to own the property. If you're working with a realtor or someone who is using a realtor, that's probably fine. However, if you're working with someone claiming to own the property that says he's renting it himself but the pictures he's posted have the MLS watermark on them, chances are he's trying to scam you. It's way too easy to copy photos from any website and claim them as your own - scammers know this trick very well!
Verify Ownership: it's easy to verify who owns a property online. If someone claims to be the owner of a property that they're renting out, you can check to see if they really own it. Search for the name of the county, the state, and the words tax records, in Google. Here's an example: Leesburg, Florida is in Lake County, so I'd do a Google search for Lake County Florida tax records. Find the property appraisers or tax collectors website and on it, you should be able to find a property search. Type in the address of the property and you'll see who owns the property. Note: if a property was recently purchased, it may still show the previous owner's information (it can take time for the new owner's information to appear). When signing a lease, the name of the property owner should be listed.
Like I've said before, scammers attempt to inject themselves into any situation where they think they can make money. Besides these 12 red flags, my advice to you would be to trust your instincts. If something doesn't seem quite right, move on to something else. What other signs are there of a rental scam? Think about it and share your ideas. The more information out there about the warning signs, the more difficult it becomes for scammers to take advantage of people.
When the time comes and you need a Leesburg rental, check out www.leesburg4rent.com for rentals in gated communities with amenities.