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Avoid these common rental scams

Online marketplaces work because most people are honest most of the time. But there are always a few bad apples. Be aware of these common scams when apartment hunting, and remember our tips to avoid becoming a victim.

The overseas landlord

You spot a beautiful apartment at a great price. After contacting the landlord you get a reply from someone who says they have recently moved overseas. They left their apartment locked-up and with no one to show you around, but you are encouraged to drive by and have a look. You decide to take it, transfer your first and last month’s rent and agree she will mail you the keys. But the key never arrives, you discover the house is not theirs, and your money is lost.

The overseas tenant / advance payment / over payment

A scammer poses as a tenant responding to your listing. You invite them for a viewing and they reply that they are currently out of province, but will send a cheque or bank draft as a deposit to secure the rental. From here, this scam generally takes one of two directions:

  • The cheque is for the correct amount and you cash it. The ‘tenant’ then emails to say there has been an emergency and she will no longer be moving. She asks you to urgently refund her deposit.
  • The cheque is more than the agreed-upon amount, but you still cash it. The ‘tenant’ then emails to inform you of her mistake and asks you to urgently refund the extra cash. She may even offer that you keep a small portion of it for your trouble.

You return her money but it can take the bank weeks or even months to realize her cheque was fake. Your money is gone.

The fake credit report agency 

You receive a reply from the landlord of a great-looking apartment. They tell you they’ve had bad luck with past tenants and ask you to bring your credit report to the viewing. They recommend a specific site and direct you to a website that may look legit, but exists purely to steal your credit card information. Be very suspicious of any credit report website that isn’t one of the big ones (Equifax, TransUnion), and any landlord that asks for a credit check in order to tour an apartment.

The proof of payment 

You believe you are dealing with a legitimate apartment owner who begins to tell you about trouble with a previous tenant and asks for proof of your ability to pay. He suggests you should send some money to a friend or relative of your choice. As proof of payment he asks for a scanned copy of the transfer payment to prove you have the money but it will remain safe. A while later, posing as the friend or relative, he uses this copy to collect the money from a wire transfer office.

The background check

You find an apartment you love and contact the landlord or agent. They reply telling you they need to conduct a background check and send you a form asking for your address, date of birth, bank accounts, social security number, etc. As a renter, you expect landlords to run credit and background checks and you do as they ask, sending them all the information they need to steal your identity. In theory, this scam could also be conducted by a fake tenant asking for the landlord’s details in order to send money or verify their identity.

The imposter agent or landlord

A scammer has somehow obtained access to a property (maybe they know a crooked real estate agent, maybe they broke in, or maybe they are a current tenant pretending to be the landlord). You are shown around, submit an application, are accepted and send them first and last month’s rent. On the move-in date, you arrive to discover it wasn’t actually an available rental and the agent or landlord is nowhere to be found. There may be other victims who have been given the same ‘move-in’ date. In some cases, renters have moved in and been living in the property for weeks before discovering it was foreclosed.

The fake escrow service

An escrow is a broker used to hold money until all parties in a transaction are satisfied that terms and conditions have been met. Although there are some legitimate escrow services, many fake websites exist. These sites operate for a short period until sufficient money has been collected, then vanish. The scammer poses as a landlord and suggests a specific escrow service is used to hold the deposit. You quickly check out the website, decide it looks professional, and transfer the money directly into their hands.

If you suspect you have been a victim of fraud or scam attempts, contact the Canadian Antifraud Centre or call 888-495-8501 (toll-free).