How To Spot A Rental Scammer

How To Spot A Rental Scammer

Written by Bryan Daly
Fact-checked by Caitlin Wood
Last Updated October 29, 2021

Every day, thousands of potential renters look for dwellings in Canada. If you’re one of them, chances are you’re in the middle of browsing rental listings and moving out. The only problem is that it can sometimes be tough to find a unit that suits all your needs. 

Plus, there’s a chance that the rental listing is fake and the poster is trying to scam you out of your hard-earned money. That’s right, rental scammers are very real and here’s how you can spot one before they steal from you.

How Do Rental Scams Work?

These days, many landlords and people attempting to transfer a lease will post their rental listings online, using major websites like Facebook and Kijiji. Unfortunately, these types of web pages are harder to regulate than the classified section in your local newspaper, so a lot of scam artists lurk there. 

Here’s how a rental scam usually happens: 

  • You see a fantastic rental listing on the website of your choosing. The apartment, house or condo looks amazing in the pictures.
  • The location, rent and amenities are great too, making the offer more enticing. You contact the poster, who manipulates you further.
  • However, the details are fake and the pictures are likely stolen from places like Airbnb, older listings, or homes that are for sale elsewhere.
  • Soon after, they ask for money, often in the form of a security deposit, the first month’s rent or by offering a discount in exchange for a deposit.
  • Before you know it, the scam artist has stolen your money and possibly your identity, banking information and credit/debit card number.

Rental Scam Warning Signs

Rental scammers can be industrious and convincing. Thankfully, there are clear signs that you can watch out for to avoid falling for a rental scam, such as:

1. The Offer Is Too Good To Be True

One of the main ways a rental scammer will hook you is by listing a dwelling that seems amazing on paper but is ultimately fake. Since it’s rare in many areas, cheap rent is an especially good tactic. So is pretending that the unit is located near the top amenities.

Can’t afford furnishings or appliances? No worries, because the place comes fully stocked with a stove, fridge, microwave and washer/dryer combo. Even better; utilities, internet and satellite TV are all included with the rent. 

How To Avoid:

  • Prior to signing any contracts or giving them money, contact the landlord or lease transferer by phone and get the address of the unit. 
  • While online communication by email or instant message is more convenient, it’s often an easy way to manipulate a potential scam victim. 
  • Ask to visit the rental. If the property is real, the ad poster shouldn’t have a problem showing you around.
  • Check the price of the rental, then compare it to other units in the neighbourhood. If the rental is far cheaper than its competitors, it’s another warning sign.  

2. The “Landlord” Requires A Deposit Or First Month’s Rent Urgently

Another way rental scammers trick you is by saying they need some form of payment right away to secure the unit for you. Popular reasons include other renters clamouring for the spot or that the landlord is leaving the country soon. Either way, the result is the same. Desperate to find a good, fairly priced rental, the victim gives in.

How To Avoid:

  • Research the rental property before making any commitments. Some resources, like the Landlord Credit Bureau, can also tell if the landlord is legitimate.  
  • Once again, a real landlord should have no problem talking to you in person, allowing you to book a visitation or explaining their rental conditions.

3. They Ask You To Wire Them Money

One of the most common rental scams is when the poster asks for a security deposit, application fee or first/last month’s rent. They could also demand a “vacation rental fee” for a short-term rental, as you might normally encounter when booking on Airbnb. 

They’ll then get you to send the money in the least traceable way, such as a wire transfer through a company like Western Union or MoneyGram. Sadly, a wire transfer works the same way as a direct deposit. Once you send the money, you can’t retrieve it unless it’s given back, even if you sign an agreement or contract beforehand. 

How To Avoid:

  • Learn your regional tenancy and landlord rules. By law, landlords cannot ask you for any payment until you’ve signed a lease agreement. 
  • Remember that you aren’t obligated to pay anything until you’re a tenant. Real landlords should give you time to think and pass their financial screening.

4. They Aren’t Available To Show You The Rental Unit

Sometimes, a “landlord” will claim they’re unable to show you a rental or give more details about it because they’re out of town or dealing with a personal crisis. So, of course, you have to transfer them money to secure the rental, right? Not the case. A real landlord should never deny a request for a personal tour. 

How To Avoid:

  • Even if the landlord is out of town, they should be willing to postpone a visitation until they return. If they refuse, it’s another surefire sign of a scam. 
  • If the landlord can’t be present because of an illness or disability, they should send someone with good credentials to show you the property.
  • If the landlord declines a visit because the unit/complex is new or under construction, try contacting the builder to verify its ownership.    
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5. They Ask For Too Much Information

To rent a dwelling, you’ll have to provide specific personal and financial information. If you decide to go ahead with the rental, the landlord may ask you to complete an application and provide bank statements, tax receipts, proof of employment and other documents to see if you’re capable of paying rent. 

However, you aren’t obligated to give away information until you start filling out your application. So, if a landlord seems like they’re asking you for too many details right off the bat, even during a visitation, you may want to consider another rental. 

How To Avoid:

  • Consult the tenancy and rental property resources in your area. They may give you more information about the landlord, as well as reviews from former renters. 
  • Ask the landlord for identification (driver’s license, passport, etc.), along with strong proof that they really own the property (photos, footage etc.).    
  • Learn your rights. Landlords can request copies of certain documents to confirm your identity and know your financial ability but you don’t legally have to provide them. Personal documents a landlord may ask to see include: Social Insurance Number (SIN), Driver’s License, Passport, Income Tax Assessment.

6. They Ask For Too Little Information

Ironically, another sign of a rental scam is when an ad poster asks for too little information. While landlords aren’t allowed to request certain details, they still have to confirm your identification and financial stability before approving you as a tenant. Their application process will most likely involve an ID, income and credit check. 

So, if the “landlord” doesn’t seem to care who you are or how healthy your finances are and only asks for an advance payment, this could be a red flag.

How To Avoid:

  • Even if you book a visit and like the rental, don’t be too hasty. Request a copy of the landlord’s application and lease agreement before signing anything.

7. The Listing Photos Also Look Too Good To Be True

As mentioned, one of the simplest ways to trap a scam victim is by drawing their attention to a rental listing with enticing pictures. The photos may look professional because they’re stolen from an older listing or real estate website. They might also be fake or too blurry to make out, which could force you to contact the ad poster by message or email, potentially leading to manipulation.     

How To Avoid:

  • Examine the pictures closely. You may spot suspicious details. Common examples include “For Sale” signs, digitally altered backgrounds and watermarks.  
  • Look up the rental address to see if it really exists. Beware of listings that have blurry photos or pictures that only show the outside of the property.
  • The photos may just be badly taken, so ask the landlord to send you more or take you on a virtual video tour. If they refuse, walk away.
  • Check other listings and rental websites in your area. If you do enough research, you might find the same pictures or listing details of the “rental” elsewhere. 

8. The Rental’s Exact Address Is Not Listed

A rental listing should include the address of the building, unit or complex and maybe a link to find it on Google Maps. You can then visit the location whether you’ve booked a tour or not. Although the landlord may not want to share the address or the unit number for privacy reasons, they should be willing to divulge those details if you’re thinking about renting it.

How To Avoid:

  • Request a tour. You may also want to bring a friend or family member to share their opinions about the landlord, unit, and amenities.
  • Even if the landlord does provide an address and pictures, look up the property on a licensed rental platform that has verification options. 
  • If the landlord won’t allow you to see the rental yet, ask for a live video tour or visit the property on your own. No address, no proof, no money.

Find out how your rent payments can help you build credit.

How To Avoid Being Scammed By A Fake Rental Ad

Now that you know some of the common rental scams in Canada, here’s what you can do to avoid falling victim to one:

  • Check Out The Property In Person – The only true way of confirming a rental’s legitimacy is to ask the landlord for a tour. No matter the reason, refusing to show you the rental in person is a clear scam warning. 
  • Ask For A Lease Or Contract – If your landlord is professional, they’ll have no problem sending you a copy of their lease agreement and tenancy application so you can review it or run it by a legal professional. 
  • Verify The Address – Most legitimate rental listings should offer proof the unit exists, including a verifiable address. If the landlord wants to keep the location private, ask for a private viewing before signing or paying anything.
  • Understand Your Rights – Rental rules vary in every part of Canada, so study the regulations that apply to your specific rental area. A landlord cannot force you to give away information or pay money until you’ve signed a lease.
  • Consult The Rental Resources In Your Region – There are many renter and consumer platforms that can help you check a landlord’s identity, reviews and rentals. Scammers likely won’t list themselves on these platforms.

To further protect yourself, check out our list of the top financial scams in Canada.

What To Do If You’ve Fallen Victim To A Rental Scam 

If you’ve bought into a rental scam or you suspect that a lister is a scam artist, there are a few things you should do immediately, including:

  • Contact Your Financial Institution – If you’ve accidentally sent the scammer money, the first thing to do is inform your bank, credit union or credit card provider so they can freeze or cancel any compromised withdrawals.
  • Contact The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre – This bureau was created specifically to deal with fraud and identity theft in Canada. If the case is serious and you have valid evidence, they may launch an investigation. 
  • Contact The Authorities – You might also be able to get help from your regional police department or the RCMP. Both organizations should have divisions devoted to theft, fraud and/or cybercrime.

Not Sure Whether A Rental Listing Is A Scam?

If so, it’s safer to stay away and report it, if necessary. Rental scams can do serious harm to your finances and well-being, so if you find or fall victim to one, it’s important to take action before the situation worsens. Contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre or your local authorities for more information about rental scams.  

                 


Rating of 5/5 based on 2 votes.

Bryan is a graduate of Dawson College and Concordia University. He has been writing for Loans Canada for five years, covering all things related to personal finance, and aims to pursue the craft of professional writing for many years to come. In his spare time, he maintains a passion for editing, writing screenplays, staying fit, and traveling the world in search of the coolest sights our planet has to offer. Bryan uses the BMO Cash Back Mastercard to earn cash back on everything from boring bill payments to exciting excursions. He is also a strong saver, holding both a TFSA and an RRSP account in order to prepare for his future while taking full advantage of tax benefits.

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