Just because you use a reputable apartment search website doesn't mean you can't get scammed. As a tenant you need to be vigilant to avoid being defrauded. Start by investigating the listing by conducting a reverse image search to see if photos have been used elsewhere, like in a real estate listing, and checking the area code of the provided contact information. Many housing frauds have similar characteristics:
- Always view the property virtually or in person to confirm it exists. Scams will often make up an excuse as to why they cannot show the unit. They will say they are no longer in the Kingston area so they cannot show the unit. They will also use pressure tactics by saying things like "I have other students interested in the unit who will rent it without viewing it". Beware of this kind of language.
- Do not rent a property solely off of pictures and video, you should always view the property virtually or in person. If you cannot do this, try to have a friend view it. A scam will never actually show you the unit because it doesn't exist.
- They may say they have had to move suddenly, are therefore unable to show you the unit in person and are looking for someone to take good care of their property. Often they say they are clergy or missionaries or doctors to appear more trustworthy. They claim that keys will be mailed once you pay the required deposit.
- They will try to sound legitimate by claiming they have prepared all the papers with the assistance of a lawyer. Look for markings signaling the document has been downloaded from the internet. In Ontario most housing contracts need to be on the Ontario Standard Lease. The lease agreement will also often have typos or simple mistakes that a lawyer would not make, such as an incorrect spelling of the address.
- The scammer will advertise themselves under one name but you will be asked to transfer money to an email address with a different name or asked to send a wire transfer or other hard-to-trace equivalent such as Moneygram or Bitcoin.
- You may receive "proof" of their identity with a forged "Property Ownership" document and ID. A normal landlord would not share this with you.
- Correspondence with the "landlord" may happen at odd hours of the night, sometimes as late as 3:00AM, indicating that they may not be in the Kingston (EST) timezone.
- The scammer will pressure you to send money right away because the unit is in high demand. Pressure is their main tactic. Often the unit will be priced below market. Beware of all listings that seem too good to be true. When in doubt, slow down. Take your time to critically think and investigate.
- If you are the person renting your room watch out for someone sending too much money "accidentally" and asking for reimbursement before you discover that their payment is fraudulent.
Housing fraud must be reported in the jurisdiction where you were defrauded. Even if the fraudulent apartment was said to be in Kingston the crime happened in your home town, province or country – wherever you contacted the scammer from.