Rental Scams

Since the world has gotten smaller, technology more wide-spread, and landlord-tenant relationships more anonymous, the opportunity for outright fraud has never been greater. Landlords and tenants should be wary because rental scams are on the rise as criminals move in to take advantage of the volatile housing market. Criminals have been known to game some Real estate and Vacation rental websites. Since that HOMEiZ portal has both real estate and vacation homes for rent, we are encouraging you to continue reading. Our mission is to educate renters, property managers, agents and landlords on the many different types of rental scams that are on the internet today. As you begin researching properties for rent or and vacation homes, please educate yourself on listing scams and online fraud. We urge you to be vigilant in researching the legitimacy of any potential listings and perform all appropriate due diligence.

Rental Listing Scams

Hijacked Ads.
Some scammers hijack a real rental or real estate listing by changing the email address or other contact information, and placing the modified ad on another site. The altered ad may even use the name of the person who posted the original ad. In other cases, scammers have hijacked the email accounts of property owners on reputable vacation rental websites.

Phantom Rentals.
Other rip-off artists make up listings for places that aren’t for rent or don’t exist, and try to lure you in with the promise of low rent, or great amenities. Their goal is to get your money before you find out.

Renting with the intent of renting to others.
This scam works just how it sounds. A scam artist rents a property so they can show it to other prospective renters. They’ll collect first and last month’s rent, security deposits and any fees or charges they can squeeze out.

Renting on behalf of the owner.
The scam artist claims to be helping someone else rent the property. They might be sick, or overseas, or just too busy to do it themselves for whatever reason.

Nigerian Rental Scams.
This scam is especially dangerous because it targets both property owners and renters. The scammer finds a photo of a property and its address then posting them on other online rental websites hoping someone will be willing to wire them the first and last month’s rent, security deposits, and assorted fees. Someone will answer an online posting for a property and ask to pay by Western Union or an equivalent money wiring service. If the landlord takes the bait, and many do, the renter will “accidently” pay too much. The renter will apologize and ask for the extra funds to be sent back to them. If the landlord doesn’t wait for the payment to clear the bank and sends the money, they’re out whatever they send. That’s the scam and it’s very successful.

Signs of a Scam

There are some ways to defeat rental scammers, but the best way is by eliminating their economic incentives to continue scamming.

Asking you to wire money.
This is the indubitable sign of a scam. There’s never a good reason to wire money to pay a security deposit, application fee, first month’s rent, or vacation rental fee. That’s true even if they send you a contract first. Wiring money is the same as sending cash once you send it, you have no way to get it back.

A security deposit or first month’s rent before you’ve met or signed a lease.
It’s never a good idea to send money to someone you’ve never met in person for an apartment you haven’t seen. If you can’t visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust to go and confirm that it’s for rent, and that it is what was advertised.

Landlord is out of the country.
They have a plan to get the keys into your hands. It might involve a fake lawyer or a fake agent working on their behalf. Some scammers even create fake keys.

Don’t believe your caller ID.
Technology makes it easy for scammers to fake caller ID information, so the name and number you see aren’t always real. If someone calls asking for money or personal information, hang up. If you think the caller might be telling the truth, call back to a number you know is genuine.

Avoid Rental Fraud

Preventing the most sophisticated scams can be hard, but the following tips will help minimize your risk.

Do online searches.
The first thing you need to do is to search online and see if you find any suspicious information on the property address that is for rent. Type the property address into your favorite search engine with words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.” Or search for a phrase that describes your situation, like “Rental Scam” You can even search for phone numbers to see if other people have reported them as scams.

Never dealing in cash.
The weak-point in almost all fraud schemes is receiving untraceable payment. Sophisticated crooks know that the police can track most common types of payment putting them at risk for arrest. Most criminals will insist on a difficult-to-trace form of payment and if you refuse they will look for an easier victim.

Demanding a written lease.
Oral leases are valid in some states, but they are problematic in many ways. If a tenant and landlord want a month-to-month lease that is fine, but the lease should still be in writing to prevent fraud and to lay out the rights and responsibilities of the parties. Not only should a tenant require a written lease, the tenant should also demand a copy of the lease signed by the landlord. Landlords often give tenants an unsigned lease to sign and then ask the tenant to send the lease to them for signature. More often than not, the landlord never sends the tenant a copy of the fully executed lease. Ideally, the landlord and tenant should sign the lease in each other's physical presence and in duplicate so each can walk away with a copy.

Never renting sight-unseen.
So many bad rental situations begin with a tenant signing a lease for an apartment without seeing it. The tenant, should absolutely see the apartment in person before signing a lease or transferring funds. Viewing an apartment helps prevent fraud and also ensures that the tenant is aware of the condition of the unit. Though we are seeing many scams where the "landlord" has access to the unit, insisting on viewing the unit will cut down on the risk of fraud significantly.

Meeting the landlord in person.
Some scammers will readily meet tenants in person, many, especially those operating from over-seas, will not. A personal meeting with the landlord is a must. It will allow you to screen out some con artists and will also allow you to get an impression of the landlord's personality. Though many out-of-town landlords are legitimate, insisting on a local landlord or management company will lessen the risk of fraud and usually leads to better service.

Speaking with the current tenants.
In most cases, landlords are showing a unit that is currently occupied. Currently occupied units are far less likely to be fraudulent operations. If you have a chance, speak to the current tenants outside of the presence of the landlord to find out how the landlord treats tenants and whether anything unusual is taking place.

Identifying the actual owner.
Finding the owner of a piece of property is usually possible by finding the PIN on the County Assessor's website and cross-referencing it with the most recent deed in the records of the County Recorder of Deeds. A skilled researcher should be able to identify the owner of the property except where the property is in a land trust. Reviewing deeds is helpful, but not without its downfalls. In some states, the actual owner of the property does not need to be disclosed, so the tenant may be dealing with a legitimate non-owner landlord/management agent.

Avoiding sub-leasing.
Sub-leasing is extremely risky for both the original tenant and sub-tenant. Checking the authority of an individual trying to sub-let an apartment is magnitudes more difficult than verifying the actual owner/landlord. If you want to take over a lease, work with the landlord to terminate the old lease and sign a new lease directly with you.

Using a licensed real estate agent.
Many rentals all over the US are managed by licensed real estate agents and it is not uncommon for tenants to have their own agent, especially in higher-rent neighborhoods. Having an agent represent you is a substantial safeguard because there is less risk that a scammer will list a property with an agent and also because if you are scammed you can hold the agent responsible. Keep in mind that some scammers claim to be agents and really sophisticated ones even manage to hijack the agent's accounts and substitute their contact information. All licensed real estate agents must be registered with their state real estate licensing department. You can verify the agent`s license number, name and company name.

Bottom Line

Avoiding scams with 100% success is impossible. It is up to you (The Renter) to check the entire deal. It is recommended to hire a licensed real estate agent to represent you which can minimize the risk. When you are working to rent a space on your own, you invest a lot of your time by emailing and phone calls to Landlords or to management companies. A Real estate agent can be very valuable. A Real estate agent is able to screen Landlords and property managements in a much more efficient way. Go over the lease documents in a more efficient manner because he/she does it every day. A Real estate agent manages the questions, negotiations and issues that may arise during the process. In addition to that, he/she likely has a more rigorous screening process which will help ensure you are not dealing with scammers. Hiring a real estate agent to represent you is the smart way to go.


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