How to avoid rental fraudsters

By Staff Writer
You can’t afford to buy, so renting is the next best thing. However, renting is fraught with its own dangers as tenants are increasingly becoming victims of rental scams according to Adrian Goslett, CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa.

“Unfortunately there is a criminal element that is taking advantage of prospective tenants who are involved in the rental-hunting process. Tenants are often emotionally driven when it comes to looking for their ideal rental home, which could make them vulnerable to the advances of possible fraudulent activity. Enthusiastic about the prospect of finding a new home, eager tenants might be more trusting and susceptible to rental scams,” says Goslett. 
“There is also the factor of time. Tenants, who have a limited time frame in which to find a home due to relocation for work or possible personal issues, could be more desperate to find a place to stay and not be as cautious in their approach.”

How rental scams work
It’s surprising that this happens but more people fall for the trick of forking out money to rent properties from people who have no legitimate ownership over. “The rental property could either be real or fictitious, with the scammer possibly a landlord or merely impersonating the landlord or rental agent. Once the unsuspecting tenant has transferred the agreed upon rental and deposit, the scammer disappears,” explains Goslett. 

But you can lower your chances of becoming a rental scam victim.  “Keep your guard up and never assume that because the property was found on a reputable online search portal that you can’t fall victim to scammers who are posing as landlords or rental agents, who manage to get their listings on the site,” advises Goslett. “If at any stage of the process you feel there is something wrong, the whole thing is rushed with unwarranted sales pressure or seems too good to be true – walk away.”  

He adds that tenants should contact the numbers given by the landlord or rental agent to ensure that the office exists and is part of the brand they say they are representing. A reputable agency will be able to provide the tenant with all the information they require with regard to the rental agent and properties listings. 

Five ways to protect yourself from tricksters: 

1. If you are primarily dealing with the ‘owner/landlord’ of the property online and they avoid meeting you or showing you the property at all costs you should become suspicious.

“It is generally never a good idea to pay money for something that you have not seen or inspected. There is cause for concern if the landlord expects you to make the payment based purely on website photos and before the property has been looked at,” warns Goslett.

2. It’s common for landlords and agents to ask for a credit check to be done on you. If they don’t ask for this you may be dealing with a scammer. “Landlords and rental agents will normally want to vet a potential tenant and complete a credit check before the rental is confirmed, so beware of landlords who are too eager to sign the lease agreement without the appropriate procedures,” says Goslett.  

3. If the sum of money to be stumped up is excessive there may be a catch, especially if you haven’t seen the property! “Be wary of landlords or rental agents who request excessive deposit amounts or too many months upfront or are never able to meet and show you the property in person,” says Goslett. 

4. Always have something in writing as things can so easily go wrong. You want to be in a strong position with the law on your side if the landlord doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain. So don’t trust a landlord who says that no lease agreement is required. “Firstly it is never in the tenant’s best interest as the lease offers them protection and secondly, a landlord who doesn’t want to enter into a lease agreement may not have one to offer in the first place,” says Goslett.

5. When in doubt, consult a legal specialist. “While an attorney is not required when entering into a lease agreement, it’s generally a good idea to have legal representation review the agreement before it is signed,” says Goslett. 
“While there is no guarantee against rental fraud, prospective tenants will be far less vulnerable in the market if they are vigilant and aware of the warning signs. It is vital that tenants deal with rental agents from a reputable agency that they know and trust,” Goslett concludes.  

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