Are you in the market to rent a new apartment? You probably aren’t alone. According to an article on Rent.com, most Americans choose to move between the months between May and September. And, if you live in or near a college town, most of the students around you are probably gearing up to move now, as they prepare for the fall semester.
With so many renters out there, you should expect some serious competition for the new place of your dreams. This is especially true for those searching in a major city, where demand for rentals is incredibly high – along with prices. This is partially the result of tight mortgage requirements for home buying, which are pushing more people into the rental market. At the same time, some of the nation’s most high-demand cities – such as New York and San Francisco – aren’t building nearly enough rental units to meet population growth.
It can be tempting to jump at any available apartment that comes your way, knowing that there are plenty of other people ready and willing to snatch it out from under you. But be warned: If you aren’t careful, you could end up the victim of a scam. In fact, it’s in the tight housing market where criminals know they can find desperate renters who are most susceptible to their tricks.
At best, you’ll lose some money and be left without an apartment for longer than you planned. At worst, you could experience identity theft, the aftereffects of which could stay with you for years.
How to spot a rental scam
Newspaper classifieds and online advertising websites like Craigslist are popular places for renters to seek out new apartments. Unfortunately, they are home to plenty of scams, as well.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell what is and is not legitimate, but there are a few important warning flags to look out for, according to the Federal Trade Commission. A seller may ask for money for a security deposit or even first month’s rent before meeting you or showing you the apartment in question. They may even ask you to wire the money. Both are signs that the apartment is not real, and that you might have your money stolen.
In addition, apartment scams often have unbelievably low prices to attract people, so always use your best judgment before responding to an ad. Get to know your local market so you know what you should expect to pay.
Why rental scams can threaten your identity
Some fraudulent ads will ask you to send in all of your personal information up front, including your name, Social Security Number, driver’s license information and even your bank account number. It’s important to balk at such requests and do research first. An article on Business Insider recommends verifying that the owner of the property or the real estate agent is legitimate. A quick Google search is often all it takes to determine whether the apartment you want really exists, or whether it is simply bait for a larger scam. Even then, once you’ve checked out who you are dealing with, it is better to wait to meet your Realtor or landlord in person before exchanging any money.
Any time we exchange personal information, we must be aware of the risk of ID theft . An identity theft protection service like Identity Guard can help by monitoring your credit files, Social Security Number and public records. Our service can alert you to certain activity that could be indicative of fraud, allowing you to take action.