The Online Rental Market Is Becoming A Hot Bed For Scams

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Meredith Galante/Business Insider

Since lenders have tightened their requirements for getting a mortgage — which is making it harder to buy a home — the rental market is hot right now. Turns out, so is the online identity theft market, which is why it’s no surprise that identity thieves are attacking people who are looking to rent.

How do they do it?

Melania Mirzakhanian, Broker and Director of Operations at Tomea, Inc., said that some identity thieves try to get people’s personal information by posting phony online advertisements for rentals.

“Identity thieves may also pose as real estate agents and through that route obtain personal information,” she said, “especially if transactions are conducted online only.”

It’s important that people know how to avoid falling into identity thieves’ trap. Here are some tips that can help prevent you from becoming a victim of identity theft when looking for a home:

1. Avoid extremely low-priced listings

Just because the price is appealing, doesn’t mean it is a legitimate listing and it’s important to not let the attractive price lure you into their trap. Kevin Sali, criminal defense attorney in Portland, Oregon, said that an unusually low price is an immediate red flag. “In many of these scams, the victim is told that there are many people interested in the property and why wouldn’t there be? The price is ridiculously attractive, which is another indication that this could be a scam,” he said.

2. Do your research

This is one of most important steps you can do to prevent someone from stealing your identity. Researching the post and verify that the landlord or real estate agent is who they claim to be.

Steven Weisman — author of “50 Ways to Protect Your Identity in a Digital Age,” professor at Bentley University and editor of the blog Scamicide.com — said that this research can be as easy as Googling the property and verifying that it’s listed with legitimate real estate agent or landlord.

“Also, go online to the city or town tax assessor and look up the real name of the owner of the property,” he said. “It is easy and can be an immediate indication that the listing is a scam.” Weisman said that this is a successful technique that he had recently used himself. “In fact, I used this technique to disappoint my son and daughter-in-law who thought they had found a great apartment only to learn from me that it was a scam,” he said. “But at least they didn’t get scammed out of any money.”

Another technique that you can use to verify that the posting is legitimate is by going back to pre-Internet ways of doing business by talking to the agent in person, according to Sali. ““If you have any concern, you’ll have to sacrifice a little of the convenience of the online world for walking over to an office or making a call or doing some of the kind of things that you would have done before everything was done online,” he said.

Both techniques are effective ways to gather information about the posting.

3. Let information flow one way

One of the major ways that these identity thieves steal your information is by requesting all your personal information up-front. They will tell you that they need you to fill out a real estate rental application before you can be considered for the property. Mirzakhanian said this can sometimes be a scam to get your personal information.

“Real estate rental application forms ask for personal information such as name, current and previous address, social security number, driver’s license number and bank account information,” she said. “If this information gets into the wrong hands, then there are many possibilities for misuse. Misuse can include applying for credit cards, generating fake IDs or credit card fraud.”

Don’t reveal any of your personal information up-front, and instead let the landlord or real estate agent give you all the information about the listing, then do your research. If you feel that the posting is legitimate, then pass along your information.

4. Never send money before meeting in-person

This is a crucial step that most people completely forget to do because either they’re really anxious to get the apartment or property, or they’re blinded by the unusually low price and want to put down a deposit before someone else does. Sending money before meeting the real estate agent or landlord in-person can cause you to lose money, but it can also give the identity thieves your bank account information if they ask you to wire the money. Sali said that wiring funds is extremely common with identity thieves.

“Because there are so many people interested, the victim is told that they must wire funds immediately to hold the property,” he said. “When money is wired, it is all but impossible to get back which is why it is a primary choice of scam artists.”

5. Meet in-person and ask questions

Scheduling an appointment to meet in-person at the property — after doing research on the property — can save you from the headache of identity theft. Mirzakhanian said that another way you can avoid being scammed is by using a reputable real estate agent. “Also, always meet in person before sending in information and verify credentials,” she said. “Obtain information about their credentials and ask questions.”

Sali said that it’s also important to look out for red flags indicating that it could be an identity thief. “A few things to look out for are owners who, for whatever reason, are out of the country and unable to meet with you in person or have someone on their behalf meet with you in-person at the property,” he said. “This is a big indication that this could be a scam.”

6. Trust your intuition

This is one of the biggest thing you can do to protect your identity when house hunting — just trust yourself. If you feel that a posting may not be legitimate or you have a funny feeling about a property, then don’t respond to the posting. Instead you can flag it — if that’s an option on the site — or even report it. Mirzakhanian said that you can report online-related crimes to an organization working with the FBI called the Internet Crime Complaint Center. They will investigate the reported posting and determine if it is phony or not. “Use the internet and common sense,” she said. “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”

Julie is a NextAdvisor Content Manager who covers identity theft, VoIP, virtual phone, online college, photo cards, parental controls and people search. She is a graduate of San Jose State University, and currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Article source: http://www.businessinsider.com/prevent-identity-theft-when-renting-online-2013-5

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