It’s that time of the year again. People are (desperately, in some cases) searching for rentals. Some have just started looking for that perfect August retreat, since they didn’t get their act together in time to snag a place in June or July. University graduates are looking for an affordable place to rent as they leave the ivory tower for the office tower. Families who waited for their kids to finish up school before searching for their next home are hunting for the right place to rent, in the right neighborhood at (hopefully) the right price.
For an identity thief, few things are more delicious than hungry people scrambling for housing. People who are more focused on the prize than the path and the snakes that might lay in wait by the side of the road.
I was reminded of this by a release that the Connecticut Better Business Bureau issued recently, and an excellent article in Businessinsider.com. Let me summarize and build off what they both had to say by giving you six clues that you are about to be scammed.
Clue #1 – The Deal Seems Too Good To Be True.
There are those of ill intent who cast a wide net designed to catch folks looking for great deals on rental property. These slime balls will post an extremely inviting offer online and then tell everyone who responds, “You better move quickly. Lots of people are interested and some are talking about paying me more than I asked for.” In an effort to “help” you “lock the deal,” they ask for personal identifying information and a credit or debit card number. You bite. They run away with your information and use it to their benefit.
Clue #2 – Don’t Ever Trust. Verify.
Make sure that the offer is real. Confirm that the landlord and/or real estate agent is genuine. Check public records to determine the owner of the property. You can do this from the convenience of your kitchen or office by doing a deep dive online as property ownership is a matter of public record. However, sometimes nothing beats bricks and mortar verification. Pick up the phone, make an appointment, meet the broker (or the owner) and go see the actual space being offered.
Clue #3 – The Up-front Ask.
Often, fraudsters ask you to complete a comprehensive information form before you can see the space. That form requests information under the guise of pre-qualifying you, information that could be used to help steal your identity. If you are walking into the onsite leasing office of an apartment complex, this is less of an issue than if you are dealing with a guy online or on the phone, you have never, met communicating from an alleged office that may simply be a figment of his active imagination.
Clue #4 – Show Me the Money.
Always remember, other than a credit card, which can be stopped after the transaction occurs, if you fork over cash or provide a debit card number, you may never be able to get back what you paid. So, if someone asks you to pay before you see the whites of their eyes, or the hardwood floor of your prospective living room, be very afraid.
Clue #5 – “Don’t Inconvenience Yourself.”
If someone implies that a picture is worth 1,000 words and says a site inspection is unnecessary, or a guy meets you at the property but refuses you access because the owner, or soon to be vacating tenant, is in the apartment and a walk-through is too inconvenient to schedule, perhaps it’s best to walk away. If it seems like they have something to hide, the odds are they are.
Clue #6 – The Hairs on the Back of Your Neck Stand Up Ever So Slightly
If something just doesn’t seem kosher, or if that little voice in your head whispers “Run Away,” then run away. If there’s anything you can’t confirm; all negotiation is conducted only online; too much information is required before you can verify the true identity of the owner or broker; or, if you are directed to send payment through one of a number of wire transfer services, provide the funds in the form of a pre-paid debit card or asked for cash before you (or someone you trust) actually lays their baby blues on the property, yellow lights should begin to flash.
Always remember, you are looking for a home, not a house of pain.
First published on Forbes.com