March 31, 2017

If some people would put as much energy into finding honest work as they do into perpetrating scams, the world would be a much better place. Because of this, it is very difficult to understate the importance of thoroughly screening rental applicants. Yes, it’d be a lot easier if you could just look at people and tell where they’re coming from, but sadly, con artists come in many different forms. All you can do is be aware of some of the following signs a tenant is trying to scam you.

When a well-dressed individual is offering to pay cash for several months’ rent in advance if you’ll let them move in right away, it can be very tempting to lower your standards, take the money and be happy. But if you fail to do your due diligence, you could wind up face-to-face with a scam.

A. In one scenario, they could turn around and sublet the apartment to another person for a sizable deposit and six months rent in advance. You won’t discover what they’ve done until you show up around the fifth of the fourth month looking for the past-due rent, at which point you’ll be told they already paid six months in advance. But it won’t be the person to whom you rented the apartment; they’ll be gone with your money and the unfortunate “tenant’s”.

B. Or, the scammer could move in with no intention of paying any additional rent. Then, in the fourth month (again, when you come around asking for the past due rent), they’ll shine you on, knowing they can stay for as long as it takes eviction proceedings to progress—rent free.

For these reasons, any play by an applicant to get you to abbreviate the screening process should be viewed with great suspicion, regardless of the amount of cash they wave in your face.

Computers and sophisticated software have made it easier than ever to fabricate documentation such as pay stubs, W2s and even entire 1040s. For this reason, a lot of landlords conducting property management on their own will outsource tenant-screening services to a company like Onerent, which offers very thorough background checks, capable of cutting through the subterfuge, at a reasonable cost.

Unscrupulous applicants will also get acquaintances to pose as previous landlords to game your background check. When calling “previous landlords”, rather than immediately identifying yourself as someone conducting a check, first say you’re calling about a vacant apartment they have coming up. If they sound confused, they’re probably in cahoots with the “applicant”. Additionally, when more than one landlord reference is listed, call the older ones first. The current one may have incentive to get rid of the applicant.

Another scam involves an overpayment check for move-in costs. In this one, you’re given a check for considerably more than is required to cover first-, last- and the deposit. Scammers will apologize and say they overestimated, but go ahead and deposit the check and give them the difference back in cash—or write them a check for the difference. By the time their “overpayment check” bounces, they’re long gone. Before accepting any checks, always call banks and verify funds, or insist upon certified cashier’s checks (which you should also verify) for move-in costs. If the check they provide is for too much, send it back and insist upon a replacement check for the proper amount.

These are but a few of the many ways crooks will try to defraud landlords. For your protection, always follow your screening process to the letter. Whenever someone tries to get you to do otherwise, consider it to be one of the signs a tenant is trying to scam you.

Related: Top 8 Things To Look For When Screening Tenants

About Onerent

Onerent is a rental leasing and management service for the modern owner and renter, managing over 1,000 properties across the San Francisco Bay Area, and Greater Seattle. Onerent offers free real estate education and resources on the Build with Onerent Blog. Find answers to all your legal maintenance finance and leasing questions as well as real estate news that affecting the housing market.

If you liked this article, subscribe to Rentometer's email newsletter to stay up-to-date on the latest trends in rental housing.