Avoid This Scam When Looking for a Rental Home

If you're looking for a rental home, here's a scam to be aware of, along with some tips on how to avoid becoming a victim.

Looking for a rental home or apartment through classified ads online can be dicey, especially if you're too eager to rent and don't check out the property first.

Here's how the scam works:

Scammers search Web sites with legitimate properties for sale. They take those ads and post them with their own e-mail address under the housing rentals category.

Potential victims who see the ads and contact the "homeowner" via e-mail may get a response from the "homeowner" explaining that they had to leave the United States quickly because of some missionary or contract work in Africa (that should be the first clue this is a potential scam).

The potential renters are then asked to wire two months' worth of rent (another clue of a scam). When they arrive at the property on the move-in date they find the rental house or apartment isn't for rent and its true owners know nothing about your agreement.

It's a variation of an old scam, where criminals may also ask renters to fill out credit applications asking for personal information like credit history, social security numbers, and work history. It's old-fashioned identify theft can double the pain of losing a rental down payment.

Here are some tips to avoid being a victim when looking for a rental home or apartment:

  • Deal with local landlords and visit the rental property you're interested in before paying any money or signing any contracts.
  • Be suspicious if you're asked to only use a wire transfer service for rental payments.
  • Beware of e-mail from a potential "landlord" written in poor or broken English.
  • Research the average rental rates in the area and be suspicious if the rate is significantly lower.
  • Visit as many rental homes as you can to get a good idea of what your money buys.
  • Don't give out personal information, such as your social security number, bank account or credit card during a rental search.
And once you get into a rental unit, don't forget your rights as a renter.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Reach him at www.AaronCrowe.net

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