While the Internet is an extremely useful tool, it has also made it easier for criminals to prey on prospective tenants – with the number of fraud incidences on the increase. Adrian Goslett, regional director and CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa, warns that there are criminals who use the Internet to scam potential tenants.
“Emotional, enthusiastic tenants who are excited at the prospect of finding the ideal rental property are more susceptible to fraudulent activity. Time is also a factor. Tenants are often eager to find the right home within a limited time frame, which can make them vulnerable targets,” says Goslett.
“Tenants move for various reasons, such as job opportunities or personal issues, which could make them more desperate to find a place to stay and less cautious in their approach.”
How do rental scams work?
A scammer will attempt to get money from a potential tenant for a rental property which they are not in a legal position to offer for rental. The fraudster will place an advertisement for a property, usually offering a good deal.
Often the advertisement will include photos of the property. The rental property could either be real or fictitious, with the scammer impersonating the landlord or rental agent.
The scammer will ask that a deposit and possibly the first month’s rent be paid into their account to secure the property. Once the unsuspecting tenant has transferred the agreed amount, the scammer disappears. Vigilant tenants can decrease their chances of becoming rental scam victims.
“Even if the property is listed on a reputable website, it could still be a rental scam. Keep your guard up at all times. Crafty rental scammers are resourceful and often manage to get their listings onto search portals,” Goslett advises.
“Also trust your gut. If, at any stage, you feel there is something wrong, the whole thing is rushed with unwarranted pressure, information is being withheld, or it all seems too good to be true – walk away.” Tenants should contact the numbers supplied by the “landlord” or “rental agent” to make sure their office actually exists and is part of the brand they claim to represent. A reputable agency will be able to provide the tenant with all the information about the rental agent and their rental listings.
STUDENT LIVING TIPS
Things to watch out for
– Do not transfer money without meeting the landlord and seeing the actual property – images and information on a website is not sufficient proof that the deal is above board.
– Landlords and rental agents have a vetting process for tenants, including a credit check. Beware of “landlords” or “rental agents” willing to sign contracts without following the correct protocols.
– Be wary of “landlords” or “rental agents” who request excessive deposits or too many months’ rent upfront.
– A lease agreement is an essential contract that protects both parties; do not trust a landlord who says there is no need for one.
– Before signing a lease agreement, have legal representation review the contract.
“Unfortunately, there is no foolproof way to avoid a rental scam completely,” says Goslett. “However, potential tenants could be more protected if they pay attention to the warning signs.”