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Tips for Avoiding Rental Scams When Moving

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Unfortunately, as the world of moving brings moving scams, so too does the sphere of renting bring with it rental scams. In order to avoid such scams happening to you, make sure you put the following tips into place when searching for a rental property and meeting with a potential landlord.

University students should be especially careful, as they are often targeted by fake landlords in the fall and the spring months when they move on and off campus or in the surrounding areas.

Perform background checks

The cardinal rule of avoiding moving scams is this: always perform a background check, whether it be on potential movers, a rental company or a landlord. Both an overwhelming amount of negative information as well as a lack of any information are red flags. To perform a background check, you can:
  • Make a call to the local tenant board to see if they know anything about the person you will be renting from
  • Search the name of the landlord or the rental company to see if they have an online presence
  • Look into online reviews to see what others had to say about their services
  • Ask for references from former renters and call them up to confirm said references are real people
  • See if your friends or family members have rented from this person or rental company before

Take a tour of the rental

One quick way to confirm that a rental property actually exists is to visit it. Never just hand over money for a property sight unseen, that's one quick and easy way to get scammed.

Of course, just because a landlord shows you a rental does not actually mean you are avoiding a possible scam, so keep that in mind when taking a tour.

Leave a paper trail

Just as Hansel and Gretel left a trail of breadcrumbs to find their way back to their parents' house, you too should leave a paper trail behind you when agreeing to rent a home or apartment.
  • Always pay your security deposit by cheque or other traceable form of payment
  • Confirm that you, your landlord and any other tenants sign the rental agreement form outlining the terms of your lease
  • Save any and all email communication you may have had about the rental
    • Especially if it includes contact information and/or the location of the property

TIP: Never ever pay with cash. Not only is cash exchange impossible to trace, but if a landlord asks for a damage deposit in this way it immediately sends up some red flags. The same goes for services like Western Union and Money Gram.

Ask for identification

To prove that your possible future landlord is who they claim to be, ask for a form of photo identification. A business card could also work if offered, but these can be easily forged and they do not necessarily mean the business is legitimate.

If they are unable to provide a photo ID or do not have a business card at that time (but especially the former) you may want to consider other rental options.

Look out for odd behaviour

Take stock of the person you are communicating with both before and while they show you the rental property, looking for telltale signs that things are not right.

While talking to the landlord, ask yourself about the following red flags that scream scam:
  • Has email been their only form of communication?
  • Does the landlord refuse to speak to you over the phone?
  • Does the rental application ask for confidential information like your social security number?
  • Is the landlord overly rushed through the tour?
  • Do they claim they live overseas and/or not near enough to the property to show it?
  • Are they pressuring you into giving them a damage deposit right away?
  • Do they request the deposit to hold the apartment be paid in cash or without seeing the rental?
  • Does the offer seem too good to be true and is excessively cheaper than other rentals in the area?
When in doubt, trust your gut instinct. If something does not feel right or makes you uncomfortable, do not accept the rental. There are others out there.

In the event you are scammed

Assuming the unthinkable happens and you fall prey to a rental scam, ensure that the same won't happen to others and share your story with fellow renters and the authorities.
  • Report the scam to the local police
  • Place the details of the scam on various forms of social media to warn others
  • Contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and/or the Internet Fraud Complaint Center
Overall, to avoid falling prey to scammers, during the entire rental hunt process remain vigilant, use your common sense and abide by the above tips. Listen to them and you will be able to find a new and very real rental property. Scam free.

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on June 24, 2014 - Moving Expert
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