14 Tips for Landlords to Avoid the Most Common Renter Scams

To lease a property is tricky and there is always a risk. The biggest threat comes from choosing the wrong renter and it’s up to none other than you to spot the difference between a conscientious tenant and a potential renter scam.

Tough renters might try to rip landlords off throughout each and all stages of the lease: prior to the move, throughout the lease and when tenants are long gone.  If you are not going through a property management company, being aware of the following is even more important. 

RED FLAGS: What should a landlord look out for?

Deceit is #1. Lure and decoy.

The person you met might not be the person to rent.

Rough renters will often try the scam a landlord by sending another person to rent the abode. Keep a sharp eye on details and avoid the scam:

  • Does the prospect come alone to view your property? If so, is there a legitimate reason for the extra companion?
  • Is your main prospect the decision-maker, or does he seem to seek advice from the extra visitor(s)?
  • Probe your prospects reactions when you open the topic of subleasing? Are there any signs of insecurity of worry?

#2. Attributing fault and avoiding responsibility?

Blaming others could mean you have an unreliable person at hand.

Of course, that’s not always the case but excuses and accusations (especially towards previous landlords or roommates) are a red flag to watch for.

NOTE: Bad credit could be a result of a health or even car accident and if so, any conscientious renter should try to explain what happened. However, insults and rough language about previous roommates, leaseholders or estate agents, is a no-no, not to mention, that unpaid rent could be part of the equation.

Fate can be cruel and nobody should openly blame others for bad luck and tragedy. In case of illness, the prospect should present an honest and straightforward explanation to you.

#3. Weep, snivel and honeyed words.

An applicant might try to abuse your empathy and kind heart. By triggering your empathy, kindness and compassion, deceivers built their smoke and mirrors. In most occasions, that’s only the start.

When evaluating a prospective renter, look out if anything draws attention away from a background check or any detail associated with it. Ask for copies and validate yourself. Settle for medium proof and you risk paying a hefty bill.

Our society might be civilized but we’re still living in a concrete jungle.

Scammers could bid on your empathy and compassion for tragedies such as theft, loss or worsened health.

The law of tough renters bounds them to lie a lot and over time they grow quite proficient at it.

If you fail to recognize the build-up of smoke and mirrors, you might end up with property damage, unexpected costs and whole weeks in lost rent.

NOTE: When uncertain, take a step back. How sincere is the applicant and how much responsibility he or she seems to bear?

You can recognize fraud by analyzing both psychological and physical signals. Unfortunately, victims of deceit almost certainly end up with unwanted financial burdens and unexpected cost.

Ask yourself: Are you unprepared for a smile?

Any document could be either fully or partially fake. Absolute deceit is rare because scammers would rather back their story up rather than rushing in with a 100% lie.

#4. The Devil is in the details. But what are the details?

Take a good look at their ID. A psychological trick is to ask for it twice throughout your meeting. This way you will state to your future tenant that you have your guard up.

Are there blank spots throughout the application, the copy of credit check, proof of employment and so on? How about a writing that is hard to read? Did the tenant fail to sign something?

Tell your tenant that each and every bit of info will be background-checked and vetted. And while at it, details take time. Take yours.

#5. Can you spot loopholes in the story or when things don’t add up?

Needless to say, but in most cases, it’s all about hiding details about employment and income. Scatter questions throughout your conversation about previous properties and length of lease per address. Add those in an easy and unpretentious manner. The same approach works when trying to spot a “we buy any house” scam, as pointed by House Buyers 4u.

#6. Rough tenants might bring in a sense of urgency.

  • Does your prospect push you to sign the lease without vetting the details?
  • How many times did the applicant bring up the topic?
  • How intense is the pressure?
  • Are attempts straightforward or long range?

Generally, renters should provide a month’s notice prior to relocation and although a rule with many exceptions, breaking one rule might outline a trend in the behaviour of your prospect. Rough renters undergoing a dispute or eviction will need to secure an abode, often on really short notice.

#7. How can rough renters scam a landlord before moving in at all?

The housing market has done a huge leap in terms of development and rental applicants can approach several landlords at once. This means that applicants will often avoid the cost of a credit report by providing one of their own.

The worst decision a landlord or a property manager can make is to look into such tenant-provided documents lacking attention to detail and proof.

Don’t settle for the credit score alone. Look into your applicant’s payment background for it is as crucial as the credit score itself!

Unfortunately, the one safe bet is to always vet info and do a credit check of your own.

#8. Proof of address and employment.

Another way prospects might try to ease or fool you is by providing last months utility bills or tax return. Is that a plus? It is definitely a good sign. But does it mean you can trust the applicant for it? Absolutely NO.

Don’t feel ill at ease to doubt any document the housing applicant hands you. Bear in mind how far would a scammer go to rip you off! Not only it’s normal to question the legitimacy of any document or piece of information prospects provide but it is rather mandatory for your own well-being.

NOTE: You could find check stubs for sale, which is one way a rough tenant may try to scam you.

The truth is, a counterfeit can be as good as the real thing but the important aspect of being a landlord wary of scammers is not to recognize deceit in first sight but rather keep your guard up at all times.

Having your prospect to provide all documents is great but nevertheless, you should always background-check and vet as thoroughly as possible. Here are a few tips to help landlords see through the smoke and mirrors:

  • Is the prospect employer by a real and legitimate business?
  • Is the address of their previous housing real?
  • Can you get in touch with its owner?

If your housing applicant is, in fact, conscientious, answering these should not be a problem.

NOTE: Advanced scammers might and will most likely try to cover their tracks by having somebody to answer your phone call or email. It’s always best to put the dash of extra effort and make your independent research. Look out for the company online. Is there a phone number left? Try to reach out. Pretend you’re someone else and ask if your applicant’s story really ads up.

#9. Here’s a check but it’s more than I should pay. Can you pay in cash and cover the difference?

One of the lower-class tenant scams is when a rough renter tries to send you a check which is much larger than your rent.

Although there might be many different stories that scammers might try to tell in order to persuade you but the pattern is always the same. The landlord is sent a check that exceeds the required payment and is asked to refund the difference between the required rent and the sum sent. It is either a check “the employer sent” or “a family member.”

The scam comes down to persuading the landlord to pay the difference and later on find out the check is counterfeit or forged. By that time, the scammer is long lost and impossible to find.

Receiving checks for amounts greater than owed is always a huge red flag. Such claims do not and will never make sense. That’s why landlords should always make sure that the amount received is the amount owed.

#10 Moving in from far away.

Often fraudulent prospects will try to carry the scam over the phone or via email. To receive offers from people who never entered your property is surely red flag to investigate. Even if somebody is about to relocate over a large distance, tenant screening is still a must.

#11 Where is the fridge? Appliances can disappear.

Without the shadow of a doubt, one of the most despicable scams around.

Here is a true story. One unfortunate landlord rented to the wrong person and almost immediately after moving in, the renter stopped paying what’s due. When the showed up on inspection, he realized that the rough renter was not there to rent but rather steal what appliance he can. After police came to the scene, the experienced scammer accused the property landlord of entering the property without permission. Sadly, law enforcement sided with the scammer and the real victim had to watch his appliance being taken out from across the street.

#12 The sublease scam. When tenants become landlords.

Choosing your tenants can be a hefty process and when it finally works out, everybody should be happy. But as month number one passes and payment is late, then surely something is wrong.

If you fail to screen your tenant properly, you might visit your property only to find a renter you’ve never seen before. How come?

The person you leased your flat or house to has scammed you while subletting it to another unsuspecting renter and of course, charged him in cash. The scammer “became” the landlord and quickly found a victim to rob. In most cases, with 6 months of rent in advance…

Can law enforcement help? Unfortunately, chances are slim. No scammer this advanced will use their real identity. But can this be avoided? Well, again the answer is in-depth screening!

Experienced scammers might manage to fool you with their proof of residence or employment but identity is something you can always check to eliminate risks and doubt. Being too cautious is your prerogative and there is no reason to feel uncomfortable with taking the extra step of being cautious.

Ask for a copy of ID or for the applicant to assist you in confirming his/her identity!

Does any of the documents presented to you say your applicant is Donald Trump? Do you think your renter is really Donald Trump? Or maybe Obama?

NOTE: According to the Justice Department, identity theft affected 17.6M, cost $15.4B in 2014, reports the Washington Times. You can check the Bureau of Justice statistics here.

There is no way for you to be sure that you’re not the subject of a fraud attempt. This is why you should always require at least two forms of ID (if not more).

No precaution is too much when you’re ensuring the safety of your property as well as further abuse of those whom identity was stolen.

#13. When scammers take a mortgage on your property.

Without the shadow of a doubt, one of the severe frauds rough tenants might attempt.

With the rapid advancement of internet accessibility, ever more people have direct access to sensible information. If you fail to spot the red flag on time, finding out that you have a debt collector standing on your doorstep.

What makes it fairly easy for scammers to carry out the scam is access to paperwork from the Land Registry. That’s why landlords should always provide the Land registry with the appropriate contact address.

NOTE: An alert service is available.  

#14. How tenants hide the need for repairs as they move out?

If the renter is eligible to take care of property damage prior to moving out, a scammer will always try to hide his tracks and deliberately deceive the landlords. Here are the most common types of damage tenants try to hide:

  • Plumbing issues: how and where tenants try to hide damage and thus avoid taking responsibility – rough renters could rip of landlords by temporarily fixing/stopping leaks in the kitchen, WC and bathroom, such as shutting the WC water supply for the move-out inspection – just flush the water and make sure everything is okay. The same “trick” could be applied to plumbing under the sink (including some of the common temporary hacks tenants could try), advise the Fantastic UK Plumbers.
  • Plaster and paint: What are the common hacks tenants might use to hide cracks and scuff marks, such as using toothpaste, chewing gum, DIY patches, wall stickers and even wall-hung art or shelving.
  • Electrical issues: lose sockets and lighting switches, fridge and freezer malfunctions (leaving the fridge spotless clean and unplugged is a common way to divert the move out inspection focus from freon leakage or even internal lighting fixtures flickering or their absolute failure.
  • How tenants might rip off landlords via damaged carpeting This category also would include furnishing relocation or units, miraculously newly-bought and placed right on-top a huge stain, or even worse – fire or rip-caused holes.
  • Ripping off landlords with utility bills – Make sure to add an explicit clause in your tenancy agreement to obligate renters with presenting proof of payment prior to moving out.
  • Hiding the signs of pest infestations – This one can be rather tricky, but distracting your attention from a moth infestation rather easily.

Conclusion and takeaway:

Being a landlord is not a simple job and having a 100% professional approach is simply mandatory. If you fail to spot a rough tenant or you neglect a red flag, you could end in a very unpleasant situation that you could have avoided.