How to Protect Yourself from Online Scams in the Rental Market
As more business is conducted entirely online, scams are becoming more and more of a problem. With hot rental markets in major cities like Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal, tenants can expect to come up against an online scam at some point in their search.
The rental market is not exempt from this issue, and even in the friendly Canadian market online rental scams are very common.
Regardless if renters are new to an area or not, online scams unfortunately can trick anyone if they are not looking for the signs. According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, the number of scams reported in 2020 was 71,023, with 42,130 victims and a total financial loss of more than $104.4 Million. These statistics make it clear it’s important to report any money lost to local police or to the CAFC as soon as possible to catch scam artists.
Extra vigilance is essential when you’re looking for housing in a new area, where landlord and tenant rules may differ from what you’re used to. CPA Canada reports that despite warnings, housing rental scams continue to make headlines, and are most common in areas with a high volume of condos, renter-centric neighbourhoods, and student housing (particularly in university cities such as Ottawa, Waterloo and Kingston).
If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is. This is one cliché that lives up to its promise when it comes to rental properties.
While places like Craiglist, Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace have legitimate listings, try and trace listings to a source if you are unsure. Some fraudsters will use legitimate listings from property management or real estate companies, including real agents’ photographs and names and will create email addresses to further the illusion. Try and search the listing agent’s name or the property address to ensure that everything leads to a real person you can meet with.
Warning Signs of Online Rental Scams
- Rent is cheaper than the market rate or other properties in the area (search a reputable listing service to get an idea of average rental rates).
- Landlord/property manager is not available to personally show the unit.
- Requirement of payment in cash or through a wire transfer.
- Requests for a large amount of money, or multiple months’ rent in advance, to secure the place.
- Requests for deposit (on rent, security, or damage), without any agreement in place.
- You are offered a space without any background check (i.e., credit check).
- Ads that show the outside of the property only, or photos that don’t match the property seen.
- Ads are posted on multiple sites with different contact info.
- Email inquiries are directed to a page requesting personal and/or financial info.
- Landlord says they are away or the person acting on behalf of the landlord is unavailable.
How to Avoid a Rental Scam
- Start with doing research, familiarize yourself with average rental prices as well as houses that are up for sale, as fraudsters may mirror them as rentals.
- Conduct an online search for the house or building’s address to double check anything that may seem unusual.
- Visit the unit in person with the landlord or property manager and inquire about the history of the unit you are viewing.
- If the person claims to work for a Property Management company, google the company or call the listed phone numbers to verify their claim.
- Never hand over cash, wire, or send any money without meeting the landlord or property manager, verifying ownership, and seeing the unit in person. If you must make a wire or e- transfer, always ensure there is a way to trace the destination of your payment and verify the names on accounts.
- Know your rights. Do not hand over personal information such as banking info, SIN number, passport number, etc. The only thing a landlord should need to check is your credit, but they do not need those details to do so.
- Carefully read your rental agreement and any other papers you must sign, including any fine print. If you feel uncomfortable with something, seek more information.
Working with a professional and licensed leasing agent or property management company who are familiar with the rental market and inventory is the most surefire method to avoid rental scams. Agencies must be licensed in many locations, and they will know if something seems unusual.