Apartment Hunting? Be On the Lookout for Rental Scams

13 May 2015

If you’re looking for an apartment or rental home to call your own, it’s extremely important to be aware of the risks presented by rental scams. As apartment hunting online through websites like Craigslist has become more popular, the opportunities for scammers to take advantage of prospective renters have multiplied. Staying alert to the most common scams and any suspicions you may have is crucial to protecting yourself.

One British Columbia family recently learned this lesson the hard way. B.C. resident Kaveh Khalilzadeh was looking for a retirement apartment for his parents, so when he heard that a two-bedroom luxury condo in Vancouver’s Shaw Tower was being offered at a discounted price, he was eager to take advantage of the opportunity. He set up a showing with the rental company, a legitimate-seeming business called Pacific Luxury Realty.

After visiting the condo twice, accompanied by supposed Pacific Luxury Realty rental agents, Khalilzadeh’s parents were in love. The spacious condo, with its water views, seemed perfect — perfect enough that they were willing to pay for six months’ rent up front in order to obtain the discount rental rate. They ended up turning over $26,000 in advance, depositing the full amount in the company’s bank account.

When the couple tried to move in, however, they were unable to access the building. After trying to contact Pacific Luxury Realty about the problem, they realized that the supposed company’s website had disappeared.

With this realization, the entire illusion came crashing down. A concierge told Khalilzadeh that they were not the only ones hoping to move into that unit that day. It turned out that the unit had been for sale for $3 million, and scammers had taken the realtor’s photos of the unit and turned them into a rental ad, posing as Pacific Luxury Realty. All told, they had scammed hopeful renters out of more than $100,000 by asking for advance payments in exchange for the discounted rate. They had even posed as the actual selling agents in order to get into the building and show the apartment to their victims.

Khalilzadeh says he has “lost all trust in landlords,” and that the experience was scarring for his parents.

“They’re just regular people using their retirement money. It was a horrible experience, especially for my parents, because they just moved to Canada less than a year ago,” he told the CBC.

Rental scams can lead to more than just lost money. The information contained in rental applications gives fraudsters an easy opportunity for identity theft. Here are some ways to tell that you might be involved with a rental scammer:

  • Asking for a deposit or rent in advance. If you are asked for several months’ rent up front, like what happened to the Khalilzadehs, you are probably dealing with a scammer. The same goes for asking for a deposit before you have a chance to visit the property.
  • Deep discounts. Scammers lure people in with the promise of luxury apartments at rock-bottom rates. If the apartment you’re looking at is listed for significantly less than similar ones in the area, something fishy might be going on.
  • Phony phone numbers and addresses. Make sure the phone number and address given to you by the rental agent come back to a legitimate business when you look them up online. If the business website seems hastily put together or full of typos, this is another sign of a scam.

Rental scams can cause more than monetary damage. If a thief has your personal information, it could then be used to commit identity theft. To protect yourself from the damage that rental scams can cause, consider signing up for a credit monitoring service to keep track of certain activities on your credit file.