The sad reality of our times is that we need to beware of rental scams.  They come in all shapes and sizes, scams for landlords and scams for tenants.  The best we can do is to educate ourselves and love once, to talk about it and try and beware of it.  Our times aren’t plagued by scamsters, we simply need to be aware of their real existence.  Being aware of the rental scam red flags will significantly decrease your chances of ever becoming a victim.

1. Meet all the individuals involved.

Many of the scammers don’t actually live in the country their conducting the scam in.  It is for this reason important that you meet every landlord and/or rental agent in person.  Meeting a person also give you the opportunity to get a sense for a person. If you feel a tad bothered by the individual, it would be a good idea to snatch a photo of their face (while showing you the property) and car registration plates.  This way you will atleast have something to give to the authorities if something were to go wrong.  

We need to remember that these scamsters get very creative in wanting to make the deal seem real and to make you feel at ease.  Viewing the property advert with the rental agency logo and details doesn’t mean it can’t still be a scam.  Phone the agency and check if such an agent are actually employed by them.  If not, then please inform them that one of their properties are being used in a scam.

You should also be careful if the ‘agent’ seems to want to push you for the deposit and first month rent.  If the agent comes with big stories about how this is a short and exclusive rental deal, with many potential offers, then you should tell them to take one of those offers instead of yours.  

Don’t be pressured into a box, don’t pay until you have signed.

2. No Lease Agreement means no deposit

The lease agreement is a binding document between you and the lessor, meaning when things get mean you have the lease agreement on your side.  You should however ensure the lease agreement is on your side or fair at the least.  Make sure you read and re-read the lease agreement.  Many fraudsters will use a typical ready-to-sign lease agreement, often with some fine print to their advantage.  

Make sure you have

  • Read the contract and understand it
  • Checked the ID/Passport number
  • Ask for certified copies if you feel the deal needs a touch more security, due to long distances, est.

3. Go have a look in person

It is essential that you go look at the property as internet pictures are no proof of the actual property.  Send a friend or even new colleague to go check out the place if you can’t.  Look at the outside and inside.  Many scams work on fudging the information. They will (for example) post the rental with a modern granite kitchen instead of the real broken down plywood kitchen.  The will display the garden the way it was 20 years ago, not as it is now.

If it just seems impossible to go view the property for all kinds of reasons then you need to walk away.  Many scammers will explain by saying their not in the country and that they have no friends to show you the space.  Really…no friends, fine, why not get a property management company to handle the matter on their scammer behave then?

Simply use logic and don’t fall for seemingly plausible lies.

4. Their communication just seems to friendly

When something is too good to be true, it’s most probably so.  If every question is answered with yes, of course, no problem, we can make it so… then you should immediately ask why.  It is in honest experiences that many landlords will have a no to many of your questions, no the utilities aren’t included, no it’s not pet friendly (as much as I wish it was;).  

Also giving too much information always seems so WHY to me, why share so much?  Honest landlords don’t tell you why they want to rent out their space, they want a rental income.  Many scammer will tell you this super long story of fiction, this is done to try and create a more personal connection to you…their potential victim.

Too low a rent and happy faces makes me question the situation.

5. Check up on them

Other than asking for certified copies of their IDs you can also ask for the utilities bill from council. This is not a bad idea even with a legitimate rental.  Checking the utilities will give you the owner to whom the property belongs to (the real landlord) and it will also tell you the financial situation on the property.  If the bill is too far in the rears you should walk away.  As not paying your utilities could lead to them being cut off, whether it’s your fault or not.

Pay close attention to their reaction when asking for certified copies and the utilities bill.

In order to keep our society on the path of seeking the truth and kindness above all, we will have to educate ourselves in all regards, including scammer. A sad but small price to pay for our loving liberties, let’s improve our times through education, even criminal education.

Written by Lizl Brink, Lizl is copywriter and designer based in Johannesburg, she is also a frequent contributor to the Mafadi blog, and as an Urban investor and rejuvenation shares a passion for urban regeneration, go check out her personal portfolio here
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