Several indicators reveal renters and home-seekers find use of online resources, such as websites and email, to be the best source of locating homes and apartments. However, these days we are hearing more about suspicious or abusive practices by some seeking to take advantage of online users, websites, email, media and companies.
Find out more alarming precautions you must take if you encounter anything that seems too good to be true or otherwise unusual or suspicious when searching for a home or apartment.
Transaction Safety Guidance
If something sounds suspicious, out of the ordinary, too easy or too good to be true, use caution because it might be a potential problem looking for a victim.
Does the rent seem surprisingly low? A check on similar housing or apartments in the same complex or neighborhood should help you determine what amount of rent is usual or to be expected. If the rent you are quoted is significantly less, you should use caution. It is possible there is a legitimate explanation, but surprisingly low rent can be a red flag for potential trouble – be prepared to just say no to suspicious circumstances.
Know who you’re dealing with online, including by email and websites.
It can be helpful, and serve to un-earth potential problems, to meet your prospective landlord, property manager or other transaction participant in person before renting or purchasing an apartment or home and before sending money or agreeing to send money. Dealing locally and in person with the other party to a transaction can help avoid many scams. For personal safety and other reasons, consider having one or more friends or companions accompany you, and be sure the meeting location is safe.
Beware of Geographic Distance.
If you are dealing with someone in another country or city, or looking to rent or buy in another country or city, be particularly aware of concerns like those referred to in this Alert since the other person might be trying to take advantage of you by exploiting the practical problems and inconveniences of geographic distance.
Avoid unusual forms of payment, or being rushed.
It can be risky to use a wire transfer service (such as Western Union or MoneyGram) or online escrow service to send a deposit, earnest money, down-payment, rent or other money relating to a rental or housing transaction. Use great caution if someone suggests you should send money in this way. Also be wary of being rushed into a decision to rent or buy an apartment or other housing, or to send a deposit, earnest money, down-payment, rent or other money. These are significant decisions, transactions and payments; if someone is rushing you, that could be a signal of a potential fraud or a scam.
Avoid renting or buying an apartment or other housing without actually seeing it first.
Before sending a deposit, earnest money, down-payment, rent or other money, you probably should visit and see the property first and confirm that everything about the property matches what was advertised, described or represented to you. For personal safety and other reasons, consider having one or more friends or companions accompany you on your visit(s) and inspection(s). Also, be sure that the person offering to rent or sell apartments or other housing to you actually does own that property or otherwise has the right to rent or sell it to you.
Move does not participate in specific rental or housing transactions.
For example, if someone says they will leave the keys to an apartment or home with Move or another company for you to pick up or retrieve, be very wary. Get a specific name and contact information. Then contact the company through another, commonly available contact point (such as the company’s reception, switchboard or Customer Care function) and seek to verify whether that person really is an employee of the company and whether the proposed transaction really is in accordance with the company’s normal business practices.
Particular SCAM Alert!
EXAMPLE #1.Sometimes the good name realtor.com,® Move or other reputable websites or companies could be used as part of a property rental or purchase scam. For example, a scammer (using Craigslist.com for example or another similar site) may offer to sell a home or rent an apartment to a consumer. The scammer leads the consumer to believe that realtor.com,® Move, Move.com or Moving.com, or an affiliate or business partner of one of them is functioning as an intermediary – perhaps to receive or hold deposits, down-payments, rent or other money from the consumer. The scammer might also tell the consumer that he or she will be able to receive delivery of the keys to an apartment or property from realtor.com,® Move or others. The scammer might also instruct the consumer to send money by way of a wire transfer service (such as Western Union or MoneyGram), an online escrow service or some other purported agent of the scammer or of realtor.com,® Move or others. None of this involving realtor.com® or Move is true. Beware of any transaction or circumstance that sounds anything like this or involves any features like this.
EXAMPLE #2. Another type of scam can involve a potential tenant or home-buyer who finds a home or rental listing on websites such as Craigslist or other classified ad websites, but the listing is not legitimate. The scam listing might display the real address of a house or apartment that recently was up for sale or rent, and may even display actual photos for that property from when it was on the market. The bogus listing might also include the name of a practicing REALTOR® in the area. But the phone number or email address included in the bogus listing is set up to lead to the scammer, not to the actual owner of the property nor to the actual REALTOR® displayed in the listing. When the consumer responds to the email address shown in the listing, they might receive a reply stating that the owner or property manager is out of the country right now, but realtor.com® or Move (or another reputable company) will be handling or helping with the remittance, collection or holding of funds. The reply might also state that such company will be sending out keys to the property to the renter or buyer. Again, none of this involving realtor.com® or Move is true. The reply might also request a wire transfer funds through a fund exchange company (such as Western Union or MoneyGram). To try to make the consumer believe the transaction is legitimate, the scammer might also use ‘doctored’ email addresses or domain names that in part appropriate name or brand of a reputable company (for example, something like “firstname.lastname@example.org” – which is NOT a legitimate realtor.com® email address), and might also use such companies’ logos and trademarks in emails that they send to the consumer. Be on guard against listings, transactions or circumstance like this.
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Photo Credit: FBI.gov.