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Those actively looking for a rental have more to watch out for than tiny kitchens, leaky faucets, or scuffed floors. Renters have got to be on the lookout for scams as well. Here are the top four rental scams we've seen lately:
1. The most popular scam that we've seen multiple times in our own apartment search is the credit report phishing scam. In this scam, an apartment will be listed for what seems like a good (but not obviously scammy) price, like the $1725/month one bedroom in the Mission we inquired about this weekend. The response was one that we were one of the first to contact the landlord (not a chance as the listing had been up a few days) and instructions to obtain a credit report at a website we'd never heard of. We assume that once you put in your personal information it is then used fraudulently or sold. Another tip off here: for some reason the utilities are always listed as crazy high (in this case, $140 per month, not including things like cable) so we're guessing these scammers live somewhere where you actually need to turn on the heat.
2. In the news recently was the sentencing of a woman who took several rental deposits totaling $110,000 with no intention of ever renting her apartment that she showed folks. This one is trickier to avoid in the current tight housing market - everyone wants to put their best forward and not seem like a conspiracy theorist to a prospective landlord. We would suggest not handing over a deposit until lease signing.
3. Anyone asking for any sort of money or application before you have seen the place is a scammer. Even if they say they are in Africa working for the WHO or that they are straight out of Jurassic Park.
4. If you're thinking of subletting or getting an additional roommate, another scam that could apply to you is one that involves wiring money. The same rules above apply - in this scam, someone will offer to wire you too much money and then have you send back the remainder. The wire or cashier's check is always a fake. They can also run this scam by having you wire money to your own friend but they get access to that money when they ask to see a receipt.
Craigslist outlines these same simple rules about avoiding scams: Deal locally and meet in person. While the internet is great for research, don't hand over any of your personal information to someone you've never met, and even then, be wary. It's scary out there, dear readers. Good luck.