Property letting scams
Property rental scams – one would think in this modern-day and age very few people would still fall for any form of online or offline scams, the reality is much starker though, now more people get conned out of their hard-earned money than ever before despite freely available information on how scammers operate.
Stories of homeowners opening their doors to find an unsuspecting family ready to ’move into their new home’ are rife, and this is just one variation of the very many rental property scams.
What are property letting scams?
So, you think you are too smart to get conned into a property scam? You are online, or leafing through local classifieds, searching for a new property to rent, out of desire or need and come across an advertisement that immediately makes you think “this one!”. You reread the advert and see that the property is perfect, perhaps the monthly rental rate is also lower than the average for that particular suburb. The landlord or rental agent that listed the property clearly knows their stuff, their advert’s content wholly does the images justice! You can clearly see the value in this property and the added bonus of a lower rental rate makes you want to jump at the chance to have this property before anyone else can snatch it up.
The next logical step you take is to contact this ‘bogus’ owner or agent, unaware that you are about to be conned out of a lot of money. The person you are now dealing with sends you more images, descriptions of the property and perhaps even mentions having a ready-to-sign contract available to make the whole process move faster for you. While making you feel very important and smart for wanting such an amazing property this bogus agent will probably avoid physically showing you the place at all costs, with a myriad of excuses that could include being out of town, not wanting to disturb the current tenants or even the homeowner.
Knowing how awed you are or perhaps even desperate for this particular house the agent will start subtly pushing you towards paying the deposit and sometimes even the first month’s rent in order to secure your new home. He will offer to hand over the keys to your new home once the deposit has been paid however, this will never happen – he will disappear with your money never to be seen again.
How to spot a scam and how to avoid it
The age-old adage ‘if it sounds too good to be true, then it usually is’ rings very true when it comes to unfolding a rental property scam. Trust your instincts and walk away from the situation if you are uncertain. There may be small tell-tale signs that give you that ‘vibe’, things like feeling that the person you are dealing with is withholding important information from you or even a badly spelt advert could be a dead giveaway that you may be dealing with a con artist instead of a legitimate rental agent or landlord.
Of course, we’re not saying every badly written advert out there is necessarily a con some people really just can’t spell. However, if you feel unsure there are ways to establish if the person you are dealing with is legitimate.
We’ve compiled a few tips for you to consider when doing your property homework to keep you safe and scam-free:
- Establish the supposed agent’s legitimacy – This is a very easy step to take, if the agent lists themselves as working for a particular company within the property industry simply call their offices and confirm this person’s employment with them.
- Ensure that the agency is reputable – We all know the big names in the property game so if you happen upon an agent working for an unknown agency look into this, it could be a bogus company created specifically for the scam.
- Investigate the property – Would you insist on renting out your property and not allow a prospective tenant to come to view the house to ensure that it is a good fit for them? Most people won’t! So, if the agent is deliberately delaying showing you the property try to get in contact with the homeowner and neighbors. There have been cases where a landlord has worked with the tenants or bogus agents on a con so go to the neighbors, you can ask them questions like these to establish the authenticity of the property and owner:
- Who is the homeowner?
- How long has the property been available for rent?
- Has it been rented out before?
- How long have the current tenants lived there?
- Why does the homeowner not live there?
- Ask for the utility account – Regardless of whether the property was advertised by the owner, an agent or even a current tenant, you can ask for the utility bill and check the facts for yourself. Here you will be able to see who the registered homeowner is and you can even see if all the utilities have been paid up to date ensuring that there are no nasty surprises waiting for you. If the person you are dealing with is reluctant to give you this information, it may very well be a sign that you are being scammed.
- Have the legal side checked out too – If there was mention of a contract to be signed then you can ask for a copy and show this to a lawyer to check the facts and legalities for you.
- If you have an opportunity to physically view the property be sure to take someone you trust with you as an added precaution.
Remember that in any legitimate rental deal no money changes hands until the tenant has met with the homeowner or the letting agent and the property has been viewed.
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