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Lessons and stories from the front lines of fighting identity theft.


Unusual Signs of Rental Scams

Sep 05

I’m in the midst of looking for a new apartment and have been overwhelmed at just how many rental scams are out there. After a few weeks of reading ads and communicating with potential prospective landlords, I feel more informed about the signs of a scam than I do about my local real estate market.

Here are some unusual signs that a rental listing may be a scam:

Tiny pictures and watermarks. I’ve noticed a trend; here’s how it works. These are real apartments and houses, they’re just not available at the terms indicated. Often, scammers take information and photos from listings they find elsewhere on the Internet and repurpose it, hoping you won’t figure it out. If the photo is a fraction of the size allowed by the ad listing site, that’s an indicator it could have been stolen from somewhere else. If there’s a watermark from the original site, go to that site and see what it says about the home. I’ve often found the same properties listed for sale, or for rent for two to three times what the first ad said. Another way to figure out if the information has been repurposed is to take a sentence or two from the ad and Google it, to see where else the description pops up.

No address or cross street or inaccurate neighborhood identification. Come on. We’re talking about where you’re going to LIVE. That’s relevant information. A lot of the scams ads omit this very important bit of information or they place the home in the wrong neighborhood. It’s a good thing you know your city better than the scammers do.

Offers to send you the keys upon receipt of payment. Really? There are two issues with this scenario. First, you are being asked to commit to a property before you have seen it. Second, the ‘landlord’ is willing to entrust his home to someone he hasn’t met. Neither of these two things sound at all reasonable. Pass on this opportunity.

It sounds too good to be true. OK, this one is obvious, but when you’re focused on finding your next home, it’s easy to get caught up in the renovated kitchen, extra closet space, and price tag that is ½ the going rate. The price tag is the key here. Home owners and leasing agents are savvy; they’re not going to leave money on the table. Skip that ad and go to the next.

Protecting your identity is more than just safeguarding your Social Security Number. It’s an offensive state of mind in which you proactively avoid traps and consciously monitor how much information you share. Proceed with caution, and good luck in your hunt for a new home and in all trust-based transactions.

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