Rental scams have been an ongoing problem for years, but if you know what to look for, they’re not hard to spot. Still, millions of renters fall victim to these scams every year. In 2018, more than five million U.S. renters lost between $500 and $2,0000 to rental scams.
If you’re moving out soon and still looking for a new place, here are some helpful tips to avoid getting sucked into a rental scam.
1. Be on alert when the rent is too cheap
Los Angeles Property Management Group points out one sign that can sometimes slip through the cracks: a deal that is too good to be true. If you find a rental listing with a monthly rent that seems too good to be true, it’s probably a scam. That’s not always the case, but in most cases, a landlord isn’t going to price their property lower than market value because it won’t be profitable.
Exceptionally low rent can also be a sign that something is wrong with the property itself or that the neighbourhood isn’t desirable. You’ll need to do your own investigation to determine whether a low price is a scam, a good deal, or an incentive to move into an otherwise undesirable property.
2. Visit the property if the landlord is absent
An absent landlord is an almost certain sign that a rental is a scam. So whether you’re looking at a rental property in Perth or elsewhere, this applies. If a landlord is legitimately absent, they’ll have a property manager on location handling their affairs. If you’re told you’ll be given the keys and asked to sign the contract by mail, be on alert.
One thing you can do is drive by the address listed in the rental listing. Go to the house or apartment and knock on the door. If nobody answers, ask a neighbour if the unit is legitimately being rented out, or if someone lives there. Find out what’s going on from the people who live next door.
While you’re at the location, pay close attention to the details and see if it matches the rental listing. Sometimes scammers mess up and say a unit is “ground floor” when it’s actually up a flight of stairs. Or, they’ll say it’s a duplex when it’s really a single-family house.
3. Don’t send money via Western Union
Western Union is an excellent way to send money to people, but it’s also commonly used by scammers. There’s no reason a landlord would need you to send them money through Western Union. Landlords typically accept cash, checks, money orders, or direct bank transfers. And you shouldn’t be asked to pay anything until you’ve been shown the unit and signed the lease agreement.
If you’re asked to send money through a wire transfer, you’re probably dealing with a scammer. If this happens to you, keep looking at other rental listings and don’t even bother pursuing anything that requires you to pay money before you get to see the unit in person.
4. Actively search for duplicate listings
A duplicate listing with different contact information is one of the signs a rental listing is a scam. Look for the same address or the same description from the listing and see if there are multiple listings. Compare the contact information, specifically the phone number and email address. If you find another listing with the same description or address, but the contact information is different, you’re probably looking at a scam.
Scammers will copy real listings to get people to call them directly and wire them money. It’s hard to tell on the surface which listing is real, but there are several things you can do to figure it out.
· If the listing is for an apartment complex, search for the listed phone number to see if it’s connected to the actual apartment as a business number.
· Find the apartment’s business phone number from their Google Business Profile and call them directly to inquire about renting the unit.
· Call both numbers and see if you can tell which one is the scammer. Sometimes scammers are easy to identify over the phone. However, you might form the wrong conclusion, so use other ways to vet the authenticity of the listing.
5. Go through a real estate agent
The best way to find your new home is to go through a real estate agent with access to the MLS. An agent can help you find exactly what you’re looking for and will have access to homes placed on the market before they hit the public listing websites.
Rental scams are easy to avoid when you stay diligent
It’s unfortunate that anyone has to stay on their toes when looking for a new home to rent, but it’s a necessity. However, if you follow the tips in this article, you’ll be more likely to avoid falling into a rental scam while you search for a new place to call home.