In general, you can deter scammers by following proper protocol. Your best defense is utilizing solid guidelines and practices. It also helps to know some of the common scams being used and be on alert. Below is a list of fifteen frequently used tricks many swindlers try that you need to beware of.

The applicant may:

1.   Intentionally not sign and/or date the application

Their signature and date is your authorization to run checks and verify their info. If you conduct a check without them, they could state you did so without their permission.

2.   Have a friend or they, themselves, impersonate their alleged employer, landlord, or references. Ask questions that verify the veracity of the person’s identity. For example, you may want to ask an employer to confirm his business address with you. A real employer should know that without hesitation, a friend posing as one’s boss may not.

3.   Express a sense of urgency to move in immediately

Don’t allow their panic to provoke you into cutting corners. If they have a legitimate emergency then they should be more cooperative in supplying anything you request more expeditiously. Often those with something to hide want you to quickly let them in, ask you to forego credit checks, or give excuses why they can’t provide documented proof needed to qualify them.

4.   Provide incorrect, incomplete, unverifiable or false information

Carefully go over the application and don’t accept it if pertinent information is missing or inconsistent. Is their cell number the same as their employer’s number and one of their references? Why did they leave the address blank for their job of six years? These may be clues that they are not being completely honest and are withholding or concealing information on purpose.

5.   Search for landlords who have no application procedure or written resident criteria, then lure the landlords or managers to engage in discriminatory conversation. If a landlord takes the bait the applicants can claim the owner did not accept their tenancy because he had a bias against them. For example, if the landlord made a point of discussing how many children would be moving in, it’s inappropriate dialogue. The number of children is not a factor, the number of occupants are. By broaching this subject and not utilizing a fair written procedure or criteria, the landlord has now given them cause to argue how many children they had was the reason they were denied.

6.   Offer immediate cash sensing the landlord’s desperation

Tricksters recognize that flaunting money is often a major temptation for landlords to become distracted. And most of the time that first set of funds is the last bit of money the landlord will ever see from the person. It is also often times monies the applicants saved up from not paying rent to their current or prior landlord.

7.   Threaten to file a complaint or sue you if you don’t accept them

Refuse to cower to any intimidation tactics. If they are threatening you now and have not moved in, chances are they will become more problematic if accepted as tenants.

8.   Either have someone with an impressive credit history pose as the applicant and apply for them, or use that person’s information to get accepted.       Once you’ve accepted the application and move in fees, you may never see their decoy again. The imposter served their intended purpose. Now a group of people with horrible credit that don’t qualify move in until you realize the situation and evict them.

9.   Will promise the world to get the key and start moving in

Refrain from providing a key to anyone until after you have thoroughly screened them and their deposit check has cleared. If you do it any other way you may dread your decision, for once they have access and move in, it will be difficult to get them out.

10. Present you with their own prepared documents (application, credit report, letters of references, employment information…) and allege they cannot afford a credit check.      Use a reputable screening agent who is thorough. It has become easy to make and purchase fraudulent documents. Verify everything and only rely on respectable sources. Be consistent and rely on your own application and forms that you trust. [AOA is not only thorough, but low-cost!  ALWAYS do your screening through them!]

11. Contact you to apply for your vacancy and intentionally don’t follow through. They wait for a period of time, and then file a discrimination complaint against you

Too many landlords and managers fail to keep good documentation and this is what scammers and professional tenants rely on. Without a written policy that you consistently follow with each applicant, good documentation, or a rejection letter sent out, you will be unprepared to refute and defend against an accusation of discrimination. Often times you will not even recall the interaction without good notes.

12. Provide you with an overage of one thousand dollars of the amount you request to hold the rental for them. They later point out their (intentional) mistake to you and request reimbursement. You discover their check is not good only after they have already cashed yours and scammed you out of $1,000.00.

13. Claim they are out of the country and unable to view the property & want to rent it.  Without meeting the applicant in person you have no way of verifying who you are truly dealing with. These types of transactions are highly discouraged.

14. Get you to fill in part of the application for them.  If you input information on their application, it makes it difficult to say they lied when you are the one who wrote the information in.

15. Prompt you or a staff member to translate English instructions into their language. It’s best to have them supply their own translators of their choosing. This way they cannot later misrepresent what you told them or claim the translation was biased because it was done by you or one of your agents.

Con artists will try anything to get you to avoid doing due diligence and to violate the laws. You have no defense for inappropriate behavior. Ignorance of the law or saying you were duped into it are not viable excuses. You are held to a higher standard as the business professional to find out what the statutes are and to follow them.

Teresa Billingsley is a third generation rental property owner. She has owned and managed for twenty five years and may be reached at TBillBooks@yahoo.com

After seeing landlords unnecessarily expose themselves to problems she wrote the books, A Learning Stage: for Property Owners & Managers and “A Learning Stage: A Landlord’s Advocate and Teacher.”