How To Avoid Housing Scams
This is the second post of our series. The first described how to detect Facebook housing scams. Hopefully you've found a potential unit after discarding the obvious scams that entered your shortlist. The job is not finished though- you still have to avoid getting scammed 😬. Here is our running list of the top techniques to not get scammed. Please share if this is useful.
There are 45 million rental properties in the United States. At any given time, 7 million units are looking for their next renter. That means that if something doesn't feel right, you should walk away and find something that feels safe. This is the strongest card you have in your hand. Now, let's get to the techniques.
Meet Your Landlord for a Tour in Person
As a renter, it is your duty to make sure that your landlord is friendly and responsive. He or she needs to be a good steward of the property. The landlord should be hyper-knowledgable about the property and attentive to its issues. You should feel totally free to ask any question, as well as expect to tour any part of the building that matters, such as the laundry, storage, yard, and parking facilities.
Any avoidance of an in-person showing is a massive red flag and not worth your time and effort to figure out the mystery of what's going. A motivated landlord is going to put in the effort to fill out the lease- after all, you're the one paying the rent.
If you are out of town, have a trusted contact visit an apartment first. If you can afford it, stay an Airbnb for a few days while you apartment hunt. The in-person visit is important to meet the landlord and see the condition of the property.
To avoid further risks, do your diligence on the landlord you are supposed to meet! This is like meeting a stranger, so make sure to stay safe.
Pro-tip: Absolutely never pay any funds before you tour the property.
Many scammers will refuse to show you the property until you pay a deposit. This is because they don’t have a legitimate property to show you in the first place. No legitimate landlord is going to ask for a pre-tour deposit. They also want to meet you to make sure you will care for their property.
Realize Not All Tours Are Legitimate
A fake tour is the easiest way to scam the most careful people. Scammers find ways to represent the property, insofar as even hosting guided tours. There are two main ways we've seen this happen.
1) Short-term lease rentals. The scammer elects to stay for a few days at private home and has the opportunity to create content, post a new listing, and give live tours. This is terrifying and unfortunately it's happens often. Sites like Airbnb work to crack down on this, but not all short term rental sites have the same concerns around user safety.
2) Lock-box style rentals. Scammers use your identity to schedule a self-guided or lock-box style tour and gain access, and pretend to be the owner. This is surprisingly common as well. To avoid this, don't share too much information prior to your visit. However, other peoples' identities could be used to proliferate this scam. Always be on the lookout for other signs that the guide might not be the owner, such as a lock box on the door or forced entry. If you fall for this scam, you end up paying the scammer directly, after having toured the property and thinking everything is all clear.
Be careful with the personal info. Never send your ID
You need to be extremely careful with your sensitive information. This has two purposes.
1) Prevent your identity from being stolen.
2) Don't let someone use your identity to gain access to a rental property.
Platforms like this make it very easy for someone to impersonate you to gain access to the building, only to leave you hanging after you've paid your dues.
Most of the time, you won't need to provide your sensitive information, until you are about to sign the lease. Even then, you don't have to provide sensitive information to rent. A few pay stubs, a credit check, and past rental history is good for most landlords.
To protect yourself from identity theft, you can pull your credit report and share it with your landlord. Credit Karma provides your credit scores and history for free.
Research the Property and the Owner
- Get the exact address and verify it on Google Maps
- Try to find the unit listed elsewhere, such as Zillow. Most scammers use existing listings
- Use county assessor data to verify the owner. Good county accessor data makes it easy to do a one-minute search to find the owner of your property
- Scout the owner elsewhere online, like LinkedIn. Don't be afraid to make reference checks to reputable people that might know the owner
- If the property seems to be listed by a management company, vet the listing agent before handing over any money. Agents have to be licensed at the state level. It's easy to search the state directory of licensed agents
Reverse Search the Listing
This doesn't work like it used to because scammers are getting smarter and alter the picture. We've seen multiple people save themselves from a scam because they were resourceful enough to do their own reverse image searches. Do a reverse image search by right clicking and searching for the image. If it seems like this is generic stock photo, run!
You can also reverse text search and see if the same phrasing appears on other listings and perhaps in other cities. You can use snippets of their post and put some key or unique phrases in "quotations" to get exact matches from the search engines.
Don't Move Off Platform
Many of these fake profiles end up getting removed, blocked, or end up showing more signals of how fake they are through time. There is no reason to move off Facebook unless the person has something to hide! Remember, you have time on your side.
How To Actually Pay For Rent
Of course you should know to never use Venmo, CashApp, Western Union, or other services like this. You can kiss your money goodbye.
But how do you actually do pay for your rental?
Most legitimate landlords will ask for a check or money order for the first month’s rent and any deposit. The landlord will also meet you in person to exchange the executed lease and keys to the apartment.
Never send an advanced payment prior to the executed lease and the the key handoff. Some scammers like to ask for money for them "to hold" the unit, or "take it off the market." Run! This is far from the truth.
Finally, Have a Sense of Realism
Falling for these traps might not be that hard, but if you carry a sense of realism and caution, you should be perfectly fine. Remember these techniques. Good luck out there!
Facebook Groups. You can see a full list of the groups here. We have blocked thousands of known scammers that are trying to proliferate across Facebook Housing groups.
Profile Checker is a free service to help you detect potential scammers and ensure listings are accurate. Enter a link to the Profile's Facebook page, upload any relevant screenshots, and we'll get back to you as soon as possible with a second pair of eyes. 👀