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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Apartment Rental Scams in Toronto

How to Recognize and Avoid Apartment Rental Scams in Toronto

If you're looking for an apartment, the last thing you want is to fall victim to a rental scam that takes your hard earned cash and leaves you with nothing. Scam artists like to take advantage of prospective tenants because emotions involved in the apartment-hunting process can make people more vulnerable and susceptible to making mistakes, often just by trusting people when you should not.

If you are feeling excitement and enthusiasm about finding a new home, your eagerness might make you become more trusting. Scam artists also prey on apartment hunters who are in a time crunch (because of a job relocation or personal issue, for example) and are desperate to find a new place as soon as possible.

What is a Rental Scam?

Rental scams are a variation on a theme. The scammer tries to get money from a prospective tenant for an apartment that the scammer is in no legal position to rent - meaning they don't own it, are not the current renter looking to sublet, etc. The apartment might be real or even fictitious. The scammer could even be a real landlord, former landlord or often just an impostor.

Often they take possession of your money and then you never see or hear from them again. Only to find out the apartment was never theirs in the first place.

Fortunately, there are many ways apartment hunters can lower the likelihood of getting tricked in a rental scam.

#1. Always view an apartment in person - or have a friend or family member view it for you. Never rent anything you haven't seen in real life and can verify it is really on the market. (Seeing lots of photos of it doesn't count.)

#2. If you see an apartment for rent on Kijiji or Craigslist, and the owner is overseas (and unavailable to give you or a friend a tour of the apartment) then it is most likely a scam.

#3. Ask the owner what landmarks / amenities are near the apartment. If they cannot name any then it is probably a scam.

#4. If they try to pressure you to send a payment immediately, it is probably a scam.

#5. Don't assume that just because someone says "God Bless you!" that they are a good Christian or anything like that. Scam artists love pretending to be religious and kindly because it leads people into a false sense of security.

#6. If the price seems to be too good to be true, it probably is.

#7. Don't be in a rush to pay immediately. Take your time and make sure the apartment is for real.

#8. Visit the building and when a tenant leaves ask if they like the building managers, the building in general - maybe they even know the person who lives (or used to live) in the apartment you are hoping to rent.

#9. Check Toronto real estate rental listings - if you cannot find the apartment that is being rented, or worse, if it is being rented, but at a different price - then something is fishy. A quick way to do this is to google the address of the apartment and look for rent listings.

#10. Often the scammer pretends to be the landlord, in which case you should always insist on meeting the landlord in person at the apartment so you can see it in person. If they refuse to meet you, or have someone else meet you, if they don't produce the keys and show you the apartment - then something is fishy. eg. A landlord that meets you there, but doesn't have the keys should not be trusted.

#11. Never let your guard down. Never give them a money order, cash, or anything other than a cheque. With a cheque you can call the bank and ask them to put a stop on the cheque - which means you won't lose your money if it turns out to be a scam.

#12. Don't assume that if you used a reputable website to find the apartment for rent that it is legit. Many rental scams are placed in legitimate rental websites and renters news catalogs.

#13. Sometimes the scammer might even use the name of a real landlord - in which case find out from a secondary source what their phone number is so you can contact them directly.

#14. If something feels wrong or fishy, look elsewhere. Avoid anything that is a red flag.

#15. If they ask you to send money wirelessly (not a cheque) for an apartment you haven't seen, its a scam.

#16. If they are asking you to lease the apartment and want you to pay before signing lease documents, its a scam.

#17. Never rely on promises, photos or even video of the apartment. See it IN PERSON.

#18. Even if you do see it in person, it is always possible they might try to rent it to multiple people at the same time - and they don't even own it. Moving day comes and 20 people all try to move into the same apartment - complete with 20 different copies of the same key. Make certain they are the owner of the place and not just some Joe Schmoe who lived there for 2 months.

#19. 99% of apartment rental scams are because the person didn't visit the apartment in person.

#20. If the supposed landlord seems too eager to lease the apartment to you, its a scam.

#21. If the supposed landlord suddenly lowers their price in an attempt to make it more appealing, its a scam.

#22. If the supposed landlord didn't check your credit score / criminal background / occupation, its a scam.

#23. If they are extremely willing to negotiate the rent and other lease terms with you, its a scam.

#24. If you're asked to pay 3 or more months in advance (or a whole bunch of upfront fees), its highly suspicious.

#25. If you say you want to consult a friend or a lawyer (regarding a lease agreement) and they tell you don't need a lawyer or to consult your friend, then they are up to something fishy and they want to rush you into signing and paying.

#26. If you ask the supposed landlord about other apartments they have for rent and they either don't have any, or they do but it is more expensive, be extra suspicious.

#27. If the landlord has a convenient excuse for not being able to meet you or show the property its a scam. eg. In the hospital, out of the country, visiting family for a funeral, etc.

#28. If the person has really bad English (like Nigerian spam emails), its more likely to be a scam.

#29. If they offer to help you get a green card for the country in question, its a scam.

#30. If they are Canadian but don't have a Facebook profile, it is suspicious. (80% of Canadians have Facebook profiles.)

What To Do If You Get Scammed?

If you become the victim of an apartment scam, you might feel there's not much you can do. But there are steps you can take to help catch who's behind the scam, get your money back, and put this unfortunate experience in the past.

#1. If you sent a cheque, put a stop on that cheque by calling your bank.

#2. Call the police. They can advise you on other options you can do to try and get your money back.

#3. Ask the bank to trace who cashed the cheque.

#4. Contact the publisher where you saw the ad. See if they have any contact info for the scammer which allows you and the police to track them down.

#5. If the scam occurred in the USA contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is the federal consumer protection agency. They can also provide tips for tracking down scam artists.

#6. Review your correspondence and look for red flags - and anything that might be a clue to the scam artist's whereabouts.

#7. Try finding another one of their ads, pretend to be someone else and see if you can catch them the 2nd time around.

#8. Learn from this experience as a lesson on when not to trust people.

#9. Warn others not to make the same mistakes you did.

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