How to Protect Yourself from Rental Fraud in Salt Lake City
If you have ever been in the unfortunate position of being scammed while searching for a Salt Lake City rental property, you know how heartbreaking it can be. If you haven’t experienced this, you might be wondering – how does someone get scammed during a search for rental property? Typically, a scammer will use a method of fraudulence called phishing. Phishing is a fraudulent attempt to gather sensitive information by posing as an authoritative source. The scammer often does this by advertising a property for rent posing as an individual owner or property manager of the rental. When a renter reaches out about the property, they will receive an automated response with generic information about the property. The scammer will then request a security deposit in order to secure the rental. Once the deposit has been transferred, the scammer will discontinue all forms of communication completing the rental scam. According to a consumer alert about phony online rental ads from the FBI, millions of dollars have been lost annually through this type of fraudulent phishing. Here are a few things to look out for when looking at a potential rental property:
Limited or Lack of Communication
1.) One warning sign that you’re experiencing a rental scam is limited, suspicious communication. If a rental property listing does not provide a phone number, it may be a scammer located overseas. Most phishing scammers will use email as their main form of communication. This email correspondence may include broken English and unusual use of descriptors (i.e. referring to the property as a flat instead of a house or apartment). Look through the listing for red flags like a large number of spelling errors or suspicious use of capital letters.
2.) Because many scammers are sourced in a different country, check the times in which the emails were sent. If the emails were sent during strange hours, it may be an indicator that they’re sourced in a different time zone.
3.) Additionally, you should always be able to speak with the landlord or a property manager in person or over the phone before signing, providing secure information, or sending a security deposit. If you suspect that the person you are speaking with is not who they say they are or seem too eager about receiving a deposit before a property viewing, it is always better to walk away from a situation than be scammed out of thousands of dollars.
Suspiciously Low Pricing
You may have heard the old saying, “If it is too good to be true, it probably is.” In order to generate a significant amount of interest, scammers will typically list the rental rate much lower than market value. Check other listings in the area to see if there is a substantial difference in price. You can also check your areas median price range to see how it compares. If the advertised price is much lower than properties listed by other landlords or property managers, this should be considered a big red flag of rental fraud.
Lack of Address or Pictures
If you are viewing a rental listing and it has a lack of address or pictures, it is likely that the listing is a scam. Always be sure to have a complete understanding of what the property looks like and where it is before committing to any agreements or deposits. If there is an image of the outside of the property, be sure to confirm that it is correct through a quick google street view search. A lack of images doesn’t always indicate a fraudulent listing, but if you are unable to view the property in person or receive images upon request, there is a good chance you are looking at a rental scam.
Suspicious Security Deposit Requests
Many landlords or property managers in Salt Lake City will require the security deposit upfront before entering into a lease agreement, however, you should always have the opportunity to view the rental property before providing this. Additionally, if you are being asked to wire money before speaking to the property manager or are not asked to enter into a deposit agreement, you should consider this a major red flag. It is always important to have a conversation about the specifics of your rental deposit and have a clear understanding of where the money is going and who it is going to. Consider doing some research on the property owner before committing to any agreement or deposit. A quick google search will often yield plenty of information about other properties they may own or experiences others have had. According to a government report on housing scams, “do a search on the owner, real estate management company, and listing. If you find the same ad listed under a different name, that’s a clue it may be a scam.”
Hopefully, you never have to be in a situation in which you are targeted by a rental property scam. But if you are, it is important to remember these red flags. If the correspondence seems suspicious or makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to question the individual. As the property owner or manager, they should be more than happy to answer any specific question you might have. If you still aren’t sure, it is always better to walk away from a situation rather than risk the chance of rental fraud. If you suspect you are the target of a scam or have already experienced a scam, be sure to report your experience to your state consumer protection or attorney general’s office, and to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) to help stop the problem.
If you are searching for a rental property in Salt Lake City consider Wolfnest Real Estate & Property Management. We strive to provide excellent customer service through integrity and honesty.