I recently received a phone call from one of our members who was questioning if she could withhold money from a deposit that was given to her to hold an apartment.  At the last minute, the tenants backed out of the lease to rent a different apartment.  I asked her to explain the situation to me and as the story unfolded, red flags went up immediately.

Our member received a phone call from a woman claiming she had a client who just arrived from out of the country and they were interested in renting her apartment. She told the owners that she had an application filled out and personally ran a credit check on the applicant (at her cost) and promised to email a copy of the report to them.  (Mistake number one.)
The applicants went to the apartment, signed the rental agreement, and gave our member a Cashier’s Check to hold the apartment for them until the move-in date.  At that time, the owner also issued a set of keys to her new tenant.  (Mistake number two.)
On the day of move-in, the woman called the owners and informed them that the applicants had accepted another apartment and they would be coming by to get their deposit back and return the keys.   The owner had not cashed the original Cashier’s Check (fortunately) and simply returned it to the tenant.  Had she deposited the Cashier’s Check and written a personal check to reimburse the applicant, that would have been the BIG MISTAKE NUMBER THREE.
Shortly thereafter, the same woman called again saying she had yet another applicant who was interested in the same apartment and they started the process all over again.  Luckily, our member called AOA BEFORE she fell victim to these people’s scam.

Landlords Beware:
Be on the watch for a company named Successful Rents run by a lady who calls herself Sunny. This is a scam-artist operation and this is how they work.
Sunny calls owners who have vacancies and claims she has prospective tenants from out of the country looking for homes.  She then sends someone over who signs the rental agreement and gives the owner/manager a PHONY CASHIER’S CHECK to hold the apartment.  Sunny also tells the owner that she will run the credit report for the owner for free and will email them a copy of it.  Naturally, the email never arrives.
On the day of move-in, she calls the owner and informs them that the tenant found another place and they would like their money back.  (She allows enough time for the owner to deposit the phony Cashier’s Check in their bank and mind you, the Cashier’s Check looks very real and banks deposit them upon receipt.)
The owner then writes a personal check for the deposit amount and a week or two later, gets a letter from their bank saying the original Cashier’s Check was fraudulent and their account has been charged.  When you call Sunny’s phone number, it is now disconnected and they successfully took the owner for thousands of dollars!
Sunny is so brash that she even called the same owner back and sent her ANOTHER tenant to try to complete it since the first time, she simply received her fake Cashier’s Check back.    I have spoken with members in the past who have fallen for this same scam and lost thousands of dollars.  Be skeptical of anyone who asks you to waiver from your move-in policies, offers cash up front or wants the keys before the paperwork is executed.  Trust no one!
This company preys on the elderly and those people desperate to fill their vacancies.  They are smart and cunning and the applicant will appear to be an ideal tenant. Below are a few words of warning and suggestions to avoid this from happening to you:

1.    If someone offers to help you fill a vacancy, get the name of their company, a phone number and ask for a Broker ID number.  If they can’t provide you with their ID number, avoid them immediately.  If they do give you a number, verify through the California Department of Real Estate that they are legitimate.  Go to www.dre.ca.gov/ and check their license.  If you cannot verify they are licensed in California, call and report them to the police immediately.
2.    ALWAYS ask your applicants for a picture ID to verify that the name on the application, (filled out in full), matches the person applying for the apartment.  Take a picture of the applicant to keep with their application.  No con artist wants his picture taken and he/she will run faster than you can say eviction.
3.    NEVER give the keys out to an apartment before you have thoroughly checked out their application “ employment verification, past landlords and references, obtained a credit and eviction report through AOA, and have the full amount of security and move-in fees in advance (Cashier’s Check or money order) along with a signed rental agreement.  Often, tenants will ask for the keys a few days early to begin moving in before the rental agreement is executed.  You may be tempted to help them out “ DON’T.  You may just have yourself a new tenant who has taken possession of your unit, refuses to sign the rental agreement and does not pay a dime.  You will then lose rent for a few months, have the cost of an eviction, and the additional expense of restoring the unit to re-rentable condition.
4.    NEVER believe information that you are told or is written on the application.  Verify this information for yourself.  A credit check will verify social security, employers and previous addresses. Most usually, a person with good credit will be a good tenant.
5.    When checking a previous or current employer, always ask for Human Resources and not the name of the person listed by the applicant.  This could be one of their friends making up information they know you want to hear. Another good idea would be to ask for a copy of their last three check stubs.   The same holds true when checking current or previous landlords.  Make sure you are talking to the owner of the property and not a friend of the tenant who is giving you false information.
6.    AOA offers many FREE seminars – one is titled, The Move-In, Move-Out Process and we encourage every owner and resident manager to attend this.  If you follow the simple procedures and format outlined in this seminar, you will be more likely to ensure yourself a good tenant, avoid having to perform an eviction and possibly save yourself thousands of dollars from the professional scammers who are out there just waiting to take your money. If you haven’t attended one of these seminars, please call AOA for upcoming dates, come and spend a few hours to protect yourself and your business.
7.    Beware of anyone saying they are just moving to the country or having a job-related transfer that their boss is paying for.  This is another common scam known as the classic Nigerian 419 scam. Someone will answer an online posting for a property and ask to pay by Western Union or an equivalent money wiring service. If the landlord takes the bait, and many do, the renter will “accidently” pay too much. The renter will apologize and ask for the extra funds to be sent back to them. If the landlord doesn’t wait for the payment to clear the bank and sends the money, they’re out whatever they send. This is another very successful scam “ don’t fall for it!
8.    Never, never, never give your banking information to anyone requesting it to transfer funds.

There are so many different scams and many willing to take advantage of the nice and trusting landlord who is just desperate enough to fill a vacancy that they do not follow proper move-in procedures.  Remember to also trust your gut and your instincts.  If you suspect something is wrong, most usually, you are right.  Call the police and report the information as the City Prosecutor’s office would love to get their hands on these people.

Patricia Harris is Senior Editor of the AOA News and Buyers Guide.

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