A recent report at ABC 7’s Denver Channel highlights a common rental scam. A woman looking through Zillow came across what seemed to be a prime property for rent in Aurora at only 800 dollars a month. Fortunately, she made inquiries and discovered that the listing was a fake; the property in question was for sale, not for rent.
Real estate scams are common, and renters hoping to save money are frequently targeted by criminals and shady landlords. If you’re looking for a property to rent, here are some tips to avoid getting caught up in a scam.
Trust your gut instinct. If something sounds like it’s too good to be true, it very well might be. Don’t let yourself get blinded by the prospect of super-cheap rent or other attractive features.
Conduct necessary research. In the neighborhoods you’re looking at, find out the average monthly rents for different kinds of properties, and what you can typically expect in terms of utilities and the availability of certain amenities. For instance, if apartments in a particular neighborhood go for 900 or 1000 dollars a month, an offering of 300 or 400 dollars in monthly rent ought to raise eyebrows; maybe there’s a chance the offer is legitimate and made by reputable landlords, but you’d better check.
Always do a background check. Even if an offer seems completely legitimate, always doublecheck. Is the landlord a private individual or a company? What’s their reputation? In one Colorado Springs rental scam, tenants found that even though their rent was super-low, the landlord had left them in a building with no heat, electricity, or water, due to previous unpaid bills owed to utility companies.
Check if the listing you see is real. Sometimes hackers steal information and photos from a legitimate company and post it to sites like Zillow and Craigslist; other times they’ll make up information completely. Always contact the company or landlord and confirm that a listing is valid. Also check if the same property is being advertised in different places by completely different individuals or companies; this could be another sign of a scam.
Beware of typical scam artist behaviors. Is your prospective landlord asking you to wire money to them as a security deposit or first month’s rent? Are they asking you to send them online applications with sensitive information (such as SSN and credit card info) over email? Have you met them before and actually seen the property in question? Even if you’ve seen the property, do you know that it’s legitimately for rent? Scam artists hope they can extract as much money and compromising information out of you before you catch onto them.
Look for properties through reputable sources. To further guard against scams, conduct your searches through a trustworthy company with verifiable credentials and references that will help you find legitimate rental properties ideally suited for you. Apartment finders and rental locator services are a good resource as they often act as an intermediary to help renters find legitimate rental properties and sift out potential scams.