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5 rental scams and how to avoid them

Tenants and landlords are at risk when it comes to rental scams.

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When it comes to leasing, both tenants and landlords are potential targets for online scams. It's a perfect scenario — people often moving from afar with large amounts of money exchanged (often site unseen).

Most of us don't have time to keep up on the many ways scam artists work. The good news is the most prevalent scams are easily avoided. Below are examples of five fraudulent scams and how to steer clear of them:

Example #1: The Desperate Long-Distance Landlord

The line: "I'm out of the country and need you to wire me the deposit."

How the scam works: You find a great rental (it's usually too good to be true), but the landlord is located out of state or out of the country. They'll rent it to you and mail you the keys...all you have to do is send a deposit.

Tip: First off, if your instinct says the deal is too good to be true trust your instinct. In most "too good to be true" cases, the deal is indeed too good to be true. Protect yourself by checking the area for rent values on comparable properties.

Secondly take extra care in long-distance situations, especially from "landlords" in foreign countries, by setting up a phone or video call. More often than not, landlords who are "out of the country" don't own the property they are advertising and the property usually isn't even on the market. The old adage "long distance relationships never work out" is equally appropriate in leasing.

Example #2: The Anxious Over-payer

The line: "Oops, I overpaid you with my money order. Please send some back."

How the scam works: A "renter" agrees to wire you money for a deposit, but "accidentally" sends too much. They ask you to wire back the overpayment with a request to do so "urgently." You send the "overpayment" back and their check fails to clear the bank. And you my friend, are out of the money so to speak.

Tip: Don't wire money to anyone you haven't met in person. A scammer may have convincing reasons why they need to deal remotely. They may ask you to use a false online "escrow service." Again, do not wire funds to anyone you haven't met personally and never accept wire funds that you didn't initiate.

Example #3: The Wire Me Guy

The line: "Please wire me a deposit. Your money is guaranteed!"

How the scam works: You're asked to wire first and last months rent and told that "organization x,y,z" will guarantee your money.

Tip: If anyone ever tells you "your money is guaranteed" run. Okay, maybe that's over dramatic, but definitely don't wire money without checking directly with "organization x, y, z" first to ensure that they do, in fact, guarantee transactions.

Example #4: Playing on Your Emotions

The line: "I work with the United Nations Development Program and we have extra money we need your help moving out of the country."

How the scam works: Someone who plays themselves off as "official" or "important" and needs your help moving money with a promise of a large payout in return. Generally when you reply, they ask for relatively small sums to move the process along (fees, verification checks, etc).

Tip: If someone starts a message with claims of their or their organization's own importance, they usually are less important than they lead on. Stories that are too detailed and personal, followed by a request for money, are scams.

Example #5: The Information Junkie

The line: "I want to rent your property. Please send me your phone number and address."

How the scam works: Someone contacts you remotely and proposes to rent your property. To get the transaction started they ask for personal information that will then be used to steal your identity.

Tip: Always be vigilant with your personal information (including phone number, email address, physical address, and certainly Social Security Numbers, and payment information). With identity theft on the rise, it's a good rule of thumb to provide your personal/financial information sparingly and only to trusted sources.

Don't sign up for online bill pay and money transfers until you have a signed contract in person and have been, or asked someone to go, inside the place you're renting. Or even better, run your transactions through reputable and trustworthy third parties.

An agent or landlord should never ask for personal information prior to you visiting a property. Any requests for bank account numbers, Social Security Numbers, passwords, or codes are all signs of a scam.

Protect Yourself

Facilitating your leasing relationships through a reputable third-party can protect you from scams. These third parties, like Rentler, monitor all listings that are posted to identify anything unusual.

Additionally, addresses for each property are verified before the listing goes online to ensure the property exists. Payments can be facilitated through safe and secure gateways backed by major financial institutions. Credit and background checks can be run on prospective tenants and landlords with their permission. (If they don't give permission, red flag.)

Most of all, you have a partner that creates and facilitates a trusted leasing marketplace to help you make informed decisions and give you peace of mind.

• Start accepting verified applications here

• Start running credit and background checks here

• Set up safe and secure online payments here

How to Report Scams

If you suspect a fraudulent listing on Rentler or KSL, you can report it by clicking "Flag This Listing" at the bottom of the listing. Or get in touch with Rentler representatives by calling (888) 222-1009 or email support@rentler.com.

If you'd like to escalate the matter you can contact state and federal agencies to report a scam:

• Utah Division of Consumer Protection - (800) 721-7233 (in-state only)

• Federal Trade Commission (FTC) - 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357)

• FTC Online Complaint Form

• Federal Bureau of Investigation's Internet Fraud online complaint form.