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Tips on How to Avoid Rental Scams

With the economy still going down the drain, more people are looking to rent. This has brought the scammers out of the woodworks, so make sure you follow these tips in order to avoid getting scammed when trying to rent an apartment!

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1. Don’t give cash or wire money

This is Rule No. 1. Criminals prefer to work in cash, for what are probably obvious reasons. Once they accept checks, they have to create fake identities, which not only adds criminal counts but also risks capture. No one wants to get caught on surveillance camera at a bank.

The same goes for money orders.

But don’t stop there: You also want to avoid giving checks to someone who may be hustling bank account and routing numbers. Counterfeiters can print their own checks using your bank numbers and signature, then spend from your account. That’s why a combination of safeguards is necessary. Checks are safer than cash, but read on to ensure you’re giving those checks to legitimate landlords.

2. Research what the price really should be

If the rate is too good to be true, it probably is. Scammers aren’t interested in a long term relationship; they just want to get a chunk of change up front.

Get more tips on how to avoid rental scams after the jump:

3. Ask yourself, ‘Why is this owner so  eager to have me?’

Legitimate property owners and managers take the time to ask questions and screen potential tenants. They can’t risk renting to someone who might cause damage or fall behind on payments.

They may take a small fee ($15-$35) with your application to pay for a background screening, or a deposit in the form of a cashier’s check to hold the apartment if they need to take it off the market for a day. Most will not even accept cash, saying they don’t want to risk holding cash. A cashier’s check at least requires identification to cash and can be traced.

But a scam artist will often be eager to close the deal with cash on the spot, and may very well have a good story to tell about why he is in such a hurry: He is moving for a job; others have expressed an interest. Don’t fall for it.

4. Pay attention to any odd behavior

In Florida recently, a scam artist who appeared legitimate in every other way – she had business cards, contracts, key codes, a professional demeanor – displayed one piece of odd behavior that alone should have tipped off her victims, police said: She parked her car around the corner and walked to the house, explaining that she’d been showing a nearby house.

Legitimate listing agents “don’t come walking up with a clipboard in their hand,” said Lee, the police investigator. They pull into the driveway.

“Just be aware,” he said. “Get a tag number off a vehicle. If a person walks up, like this one, from two blocks away, that should be a clue.”

Observe their behavior, and trust your gut if something seems odd.

“Do they have a set of keys? Are they entering through the back door? Just how they’re acting — does the story make sense?” said Jesse Holland, a regional vice president for the Institute of Real Estate Management.

5. Collect documents

Ask for copies of everything: checks, money orders, the application, receipts, the lease.

“You want to create an audit trail and a paper trail to protect yourself,” said Holland, who also serves as president of Sunrise Management and Consulting, in upstate New York. “That proves that you are entitled to rent it and have gone through a legitimate process, as opposed to, ‘You give me $700 cash.’”

Be aware that a savvy scam artist can easily create his own documents using samples from the Web. So paperwork by itself is not enough to protect you. However, should another sign tip you off, your papers could help authorities prosecute the con artist.

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2 Comments on “Tips on How to Avoid Rental Scams”

  • susan saso
    October 12, 2010

    I Found the guy responsible for scamming people out of thousand’s of dollar’s by that exact thing you talk about in your article. They go all the way back to May of 2010. The guy’s name is Ron hubbard .His company is Bullseye leasing. He work’s out of Costa Mesa,Ca. My wife and I got taken for 1,800 ! I remember him saying, “I’ll LEAVE THE KEY”S UNDER THE MATT,I typed that in google and low and behold up came BUllSEYE LEASING. IT’s the same guy. He drive’s a red mini-cooper. We need his address.

  • Clinton Skakun
    April 15, 2011

    As a younger person getting ready to move out I’m not eager to overlook any aspect of renting. I work too hard for my money to get taken. So far the people I’ve met with seem 100% legit and there were no red flags as listed in this article, but overall this is good to know.

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