Unfortunately, in many markets, renting an apartment seems more like a competition than a straightforward process. And if that isn’t stressful enough, scammers are planting landmines all along the way. Last week we shared some unusual signs that an ad might be a rental scam. Today, we’ll discuss personal information privacy and safety in the rental application process.
So, here’s the latest trick. You see an ad for a property that looks promising. The ad directs you to an external website so that you may place an inquiry. At that site, you’re required to supply a fair amount of your personal information as part of your pre-application, or simply to get someone to call you back. This is when you step away. Yes, no matter how good the property looks, step away.
Remember, you’re still in the information gathering phase. You might have a question about the layout, or when the property will be available for occupancy. You’re still trying to find out if the property is right for you. It’s definitely not the time to be revealing anything about yourself. And, I’m pretty sure that providing all of your information to the site isn’t going to improve your chances of getting the apartment. Chances are, that website is set up for the sole purpose of collecting personal information, and has nothing to do with real estate.
Don’t share personal information until you’re certain there’s a real person and a real property at the other end. It’s common for agents and landlords to want to get a sense of who you are before they show you a property, but these conversations happen over the phone, and they are looking to know who will be living in the apartment, if you’re smokers, and whether or not you have pets. At that point in the process, they aren’t getting your information in order to get a credit score.
Speaking of credit scores, in efforts to manage my personal privacy during the application process, I ran my own credit report and included it with my application. On my application, I didn’t supply my complete Social Security Number, but indicated that it would be provided if necessary. Many agents and landlords understand privacy concerns and can be flexible as long as they get the information they need.
It’s an overwhelming process – just remember these renting safety basics:
- Do not provide any personally identifying information (full name, address, SSN, DOB, etc.) to anyone you haven’t met. This means, no on-line pre-approval forms.
- Do not submit to a credit or background check until after you’ve met the agent or landlord in person.
- If you are unable to see the property in person, or if there’s not a valid phone number attached to the ad, assume it’s fake.
Proceed with caution and skepticism in the rough and tumble rental world. You’ll be better off for it.