Instances of rental fraud are increasing. Why? It’s an easy crime to get away with and requires little more than an internet connection or a temporary phone number. Most rental scams follow this basic pattern: a con artist finds a property, pretends to be the owner, advertises it (usually online for free), communicates with the potential renter (never face to face), and makes off with a cash deposit.
We recognize that the best way to prevent such crimes is to educate consumers. Protect yourself and other renters you know with the following tips.
How to avoid falling victim to rental fraud
- Don’t give cash or wire money: For obvious reasons, criminals prefer to work in cash. Checks may take time to clear and require a fake identity which increases risk of capture. Be suspicious if the only method of payment is wire transfer.
- Double-check the price: Look for similar listings for the same address at a higher price. Research other rentals in the area and be suspicious if their rates are significantly higher. Criminals keep their prices notoriously low to create urgency and make a fast buck. You know the saying: If it seems too good to be true…
- Is the owner too pushy: Legitimate property managers ask questions and screen potential tenants. A scam artist will usually pressure you to close the deal immediately.
- Create a paper trail: Ask for copies of everything: the application, the lease, receipts, money orders, etc. Scam artists can easily create believable forms by copying online examples, so paperwork itself is not enough to protect you.
- Ask a lot of questions: What is the neighbourhood like? What stores are nearby? You can easily verify answers to these questions online using tools such as Google Maps or Google Earth. Ask to see the owner’s insurance certificate, human rights policy or proof of ownership. Don’t be surprised if he/she cuts off contact because you’re too much effort.
- Trust your instincts: If something seems off, investigate further or walk away. Perhaps it’s not the right home for you.
I think I’m being scammed. What do I do?
- Stop any contact with the suspicious individual.
- If money has exchanged hands, contact your financial institution immediately to flag the transaction and attempt a stop payment.
- Contact Craigslist or wherever you originally found the rental and inform them the ad is likely a fraud. They will deactivate the listing. Many of these sites even have a quick option to flag a listing as spam or fraud right on the same page.
- Report the details (include copies of any correspondence) to the police.
Credit: Skyline Living