Browsing different real estate sites, like Craigslist, Zillow, Apartments.com, is always the first step for you to find your next rental apartment. Am I right? Scammers know this too. Don’t always trust those nice pictures or wordings easily. When you find an apartment that’s very cheap in a good location, chances are that it might be a scam. But scammers are more than this. So what should we do to prevent and avoid rental scam?
If it’s too cheap to be true, it’s a rental scam
If scammers want to you to believe that their phantom listings are real, they may post the same listing on different sites. Most of the popular real-estate sites don’t have strict policy in verifying listings. Be aware of the cheapest listings in your search area because it might be a rental scam.
This type of scam always targets frugal renters. Usually, they are sorting search results by price, from cheapest to most expensive. So, scammers can hijack a real listing, replace the contact info and price, and then upload again to different sites.
Compare the price with other apartments, which have similar characteristics. There is no free lunch. When you buy beef in the supermarket, you will check the expiration date if the price is cheaper than usual. So should you do when apartment hunting.
Pay one-month rent in advance before signing a lease
This trick targets renters without good credit history and cash renters. Scammers know your weakness if you are in this situation. “You have bad credit score, but it’s OK, you can pay first month rent upfront if you want this apartment.” Be aware.
Good landlords will ask you to pay security deposit or first month rent when you sign the lease or after you sign the lease. If you have to rent an apartment remotely, a real property manager will probably ask you to submit an online application, if you get approved, you can pay the security deposit when you visit or move-in to the apartment.
Visit the apartment before you pay the security deposit or rent. If you have to rent online, use credible sites which have direct relationships with landlords or they verify the landlords and listings.
How to judge if a site has verified landlords? The easiest way is to see if you can post listings without any identity verification. For example, Craigslist, Zillow and Trulia allow every user to post whatever they want, so be careful.
Scammers are afraid of meeting with you in person. They just want you to wire them money. This type of scam is used mostly in car sales, but in real estate too. They will tell you they are out of town but they have someone who will give you the keys.
Remember, scammers just want to get money from you. Never transfer your money directly to someone else’s account! If you need to send money, use credit card because a transfer through banks will have some pending days that will give you a chance to stop the payment, if something goes south.
Scammers are not hard to figure out, if you are careful when searching for your next apartment. You always get what you pay for.