When embarking on the apartment hunt, it can be all too easy to get caught up in the excitement and rush of locking in a rental as quickly as possible.
But on websites such as Craigslist and others that are not heavily monitored, scammers can easily set up fake rental listings that appear legitimate in order to trick renters into wiring funds. When the process is rushed and important details are overlooked, it is easy to miss major warning signs that could indicate a rental is not legitimate.
To help ensure your funds are safe, here are the common warning signs that an apartment rental could be a scam.
1. The realtor or landlord asks you to wire funds prior to meeting them
If the realtor or landlord asks you to wire money early on in the conversation—especially if you have not yet seen the apartment—it could be a scam. They will typically ask that the prospective tenant wires funds as a “deposit” to secure the space, which is not standard practice in the real estate industry.
If you have already toured the apartment and the landlord or realtor is asking you to wire funds, research the individual thoroughly. Realtors typically have a profile page on the brokerage website they are affiliated with. Landlord should be willing to provide information to help you verify his or her identity. If you are having trouble finding any information about the realtor or landlord online, and they give push-back when you ask for further details about their company, that could be a sign that they are not trustworthy.
2. The realtor or landlord is “out of the country”
Scammers will frequently use the excuse that they are traveling outside of the country when you request to visit the apartment. They may also suggest that you drive by the apartment building or home to see it from outside.
This could be a sign of a scam, as a legitimate realtor or landlord will typically have a coworker or business partner available to show rentals while they are out of town.
3. The background check costs more than $50 or $75
Most credit or background checks will not cost more than $50 to $75, at most. If a realtor or landlord requests a larger fee than that—especially if they want the funds via cash and refuse to accept a check—they could be trying to take advantage of you.
4. The landlord or realtor is overly aggressive and doesn’t require a background check
While it is always ideal to have a realtor or landlord who is responsive, if the individual seems alarmingly eager or aggressive while communicating, this could be a sign that the rental is not legitimate.
Additionally, if the landlord or realtor doesn’t request that you complete a background check or provide employment verification/credit history, they may be falsely misleading you. Most landlords and realtors want to ensure that their tenant is employed, has strong credit, and does not have a criminal background. If they are willing to move forward without reviewing your personal information, it could be suspicious.
5. The realtor or landlord refuses to include a contract
When someone doesn’t have the legal authority to rent an apartment, they will be far less inclined to draw up paperwork, as their primary objective is to take your deposit and run.
While there are some landlords who are comfortable with tenants not being on a formal lease, there should at least be some paperwork involved, such as a document stating that you are on a month-to-month agreement. Be cautious of landlords or realtors who do not ask you to sign any formal paperwork, as they are most likely trying to avoid legal documentation leading back to them.
6. The listing photos have an MLS watermark
The MLS, or multiple listing service, is a database that can only be accessed by licensed realtors to view homes for rent and for sale. Photos that are included in the MLS have a watermark, so if you notice a watermark on an image, it may have been stolen off the MLS.
If you suspect the images were stolen and an address is included, search the address online to see if the property is listed for rent on any other websites. Oftentimes, scammers will copy the property description and images from a listing and paste it onto Craigslist or some other rental site.
7. The realtor or landlord uses a “bait-and-switch” tactic
Some realtors and landlords use bait-and-switch tactics with prospective tenants. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are a scammer, it can indicate that they are untrustworthy. The most common bait-and-switch method is posting a beautiful home for rent online to lure clients, and then telling them it is unavailable when the renter inquires about it.
The realtor or landlord will then attempt to convince the renter to view other properties they have available that are not as desirable. Scammers use a similar tactic. They will typically find photos of a beautiful home, pair it with an astonishingly low price, and add a vague property description that doesn’t always quite make sense. Those using this tactic will also typically avoid including an address so that renters can’t find the home online.
How to avoid scammers
To keep your assets safe, it is strongly advised that you only rent from properties that are run by a certified property manager (CPM) and/or an accredited residential manager (ARM).
Individuals who have taken the time to obtain property management certification are recognized by the National Association of Realtors and awarded certification by the Institute of Real Estate Management, further demonstrating their commitment to the industry. Those who have 12 qualifying months of residential real estate management experience can go on to become an accredited residential manager (ARM), which involves completing classes, coursework, and an exam.
While it may be tempting to move forward with a rental that seems perfect, always conduct careful research on the property, realtor, and landlord prior to sending money. This holds particularly true for those who are relocating from out of state and are unable to physically visit their new home ahead of time.
If you’re in the midst of searching for your new apartment, you can learn more about luxury properties that are run by certified property managers and accredited residential managers by visiting draperandkramer.com