How to Spot & Avoid Apartment Scams
NEW YORK — If an apartment deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
The web is full of scam artists looking to rip off renters eager to score a great deal, even more so when rents are up and inventory is low. Craigslist apartment rental con jobs are too numerous to mention.
So, how do you spot an apartment scam and avoid getting taken for a ride?
There are a few things to keep in mind:
- Beware of requests to wire funds (such as via Western Union). A favorite of Nigerian royalty looking for help recovering their fortunes, this is the quickest way to part with your hard-earned cash forever and the biggest tip-off.
- Do not refund excess funds sent via cashier’s check. Having dealt with — and successfully reported — a scammer looking to do this to me, I figured out in time that the check was a forgery with no funds to back it up. Had I sent the refund, I would’ve been out several hundreds of dollars.
- Sounds too good to be true? That $650-a-month Manhattan apartment falls in this category. Apartment Therapy blogged about a great — but fake — deal that also incorporated the previous tip.
- Make sure the apartment exists. Travel sites are replete with stories of travelers paying up front for a place to stay, then arriving to find the apartment either does not exist or was not the scammer’s to rent in the first place.
- Conduct an online search. Occasionally, scammers will use the same e-mail address, name or phone number. Look up the address and the person showing you the apartment. The Internet has a way of allowing people’s reputations to follow them. There are a variety of ways to follow up, as Consumerist points out.
- Listen to your gut. If something isn’t adding up, there might be something to that. Don’t be pressured into making a decision on the spot, especially if there is arm-twisting. Take a moment, go for a walk or sleep on it. Ask your friends for advice.
If you would like to avoid the potential headaches described above, your best bet might be to work with a reputable real estate agent at a company with a solid reputation.
No matter what, caveat emptor — let the buyer beware.