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Renters aren’t the only victims of scams. Due to the turbulent housing market, both apartment hunters and property managers/landlords alike have been seeing a rise in the number of scams. Getting bilked by tenant fraud can happen to the best of us, but by being aware of the strategies and situations scammers use to rent out apartments, you can prevent yourself from becoming a victim.

Scan online listings

A property owner in Contra Costa County, CA, found another person posting his exact rental listing but at a lower asking price for rent. Multiple cities are also seeing increasing occurrences of impostor landlords illegally renting out properties they don’t own. Search online listings databases with your ZIP code or address to double check that you’re the authorized contact and that there are no strange postings under your property’s address and photographs.

Be wary of international renters

Overseas renters who can’t show up and meet you may offer to rent the unit sight unseen and request to wire money. Be extremely cautious in these situations, as international renters don’t have a Social Security number or credit background in the United States. If you do decide to rent to them, ask for a co-signer and work references so you can confirm their identity.

Don’t accept an overpayment

In the case of an overpayment scam, a prospective renter will offer to pay you much more than what you require in a security deposit or month’s rent. If the renter offers to pay several months of rent in advance or asks you to write him a check containing the difference, be wary. If a renter’s offer sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Refuse wire transfers and cashier’s checks

Both of these payment forms are common in scams because they’re hard to trace. If renters are genuinely interested in your rental property, they won’t object to writing you a personal check.

Meet with the renter

The best way to avoid becoming the victim of a scam is to deal directly with the renter. The majority of scams occur over the Internet or phone, so whenever possible, ask to meet with the renter in person. Legitimate renters and landlords will agree to meet and go through a qualification process — any refusal to do so should raise a red flag.

Establish a lead qualification system

Verify the renter’s identity, complete a background or reference check and ask for a credit report before you accept a check and approve the application to ensure the renter is “real.”

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About the Author

Jennifer Chan is a marketing coordinator at Zillow and manages content for the rentals side of the Zillow for Pros/ blog.

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