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    Rental Red Flags: Detecting and Dodging Listing Scams

    Warning signs every tenant should watch out for when looking to secure a lease

    Written By Robert Van Rhijn

    These days, the GTA rental market is full of peculiar listings. From half a bed (yes bed, not bedroom) offered at $900 a month to just some outright nonsense — there are many rentals out there meant to trap unsuspecting tenants into bad situations.

    So if you’re on the hunt for your next lease, be prepared by familiarizing yourself with these red flags.

    Types of Rental Scams

    Here are 7 of the most common tactics that fraudsters will use to steal your money, or even your identity.

    1. Fake Listings

    This classic scam takes the cake as one of the most widespread tricks out there. What happens is, someone posts an ad for a property that's either a figment of their imagination or has already found its lucky tenant.

    Then, they slyly request money from eager renters — whether it's for property visits, applications, or deposits. Once they've pocketed your cash, the fraudsters will make a quick exit.

    2. Hijacked Ad

    Similar to a fake listing — a scammer, posing as a landlord, will post an ad for a real place. But they will do so with altered contact info, persuading you to send money or personal details to them instead.

    More recently in Toronto we’ve seen fraudsters posing as rental agents. But really, these fraudsters are just short-term renters who have booked an Airbnb — so they have access to the unit and all its amenities.

    They will be so bold as to give a tour of the place, get the tenant to sign a fake lease agreement, take their deposit, and ‘rent out’ that same Airbnb. It even goes so far as the fake realtor will hand over the keys, and the person will move in.

    But the next day those tenants get a rude surprise when usually the cleaning staff shows up. By that point, the scammer has fully blocked all contact with the victims.

    3. Bait-and-Switch (aka. False Advertising)

    In this scam, you've got the property owner being a bit shady in their advertising. You show up to check out the place, but it's not as great as they made it seem in the listing. To make matters worse, the landlord might try to push you into signing a lease or handing over a deposit for a completely different property than the one they originally advertised for.

    4. Identity Theft

    It’s perfectly reasonable for a landlord to ask for your credit score. But in this case, these scammers will tell you they need your social security number and bank info for a credit check, even though neither of these things are required. What they'll do is use that info to swipe your money or steal your identity.

    Be protective of your personal details and only provide what is required by law. Legitimate landlords can actually get everything they need to know with just your name, birth date and address.

    5. Refundable Deposits

    So you just saw your dream place and now they’re asking for a big deposit upfront? Red flag. Scammers will hit you up for a hefty deposit upfront, promising it's refundable. But the truth is that this is a one-way street. Once they've got your money, they’re gone.

    6. Suspicious Money Request

    Pretty much any upfront money requests should be treated as a massive warning sign. Legally, landlords can only request the first and last month's rent, plus a refundable key deposit. Everything else, like application fees, holding fees, damage deposits, cleaning fees, pet deposits, and the like, are flat-out illegal.

    So if you're told to cough up cash before you've even laid eyes on the apartment, just say no. And while this should go without saying, never wire money to someone you've never actually met in person for a place you haven't visited. If they're asking for a wire transfer, this is a major red flag.

    7. Missing Amenities

    In this sneaky move, you might come across an ad for a legitimate place. But the catch is they're listing amenities that don't actually exist just to jack up the price. So for instance, if the posting states there’s a gym or parking spot — make sure those things are actually included before signing on the dotted line.

    How to Protect Yourself

    From working with a realtor to using judgment when sharing personal details, here are several ways to protect yourself when dealing with potential scammers.

    See the property

    Before opening your wallet or sharing sensitive information, see the property in person to confirm it's exactly as advertised. This is a crucial step to protect yourself from potential scams.

    Work with a realtor

    The chances of being scammed are significantly reduced when working with an agent. Additionally, an agent’s services are free of charge to the tenant — because their commission is paid out by the landlord. A realtor will ensure your best interests are represented. And they will have the resources to confirm the landlord actually owns the rental property, along with other details to ensure the transaction is legitimate.

    No cash

    Don't ever part with your hard-earned money through cash transactions, wire transfers, or those slippery, hard-to-trace methods like Bitcoin. These payments leave virtually no paper trail.

    Stick to the safer options: Bank cheques, money orders, or email money transfers. But only when you're absolutely sure your rental deal is safe.

    Only legally required information

    Landlords often review T4s and bank statements – this is standard practice. But before you hand those over, it's a wise precaution to blur out or redact sensitive information like your Social Insurance Number (SIN) or bank account details. This will help protect your privacy and personal information during the application process.

    Don’t trust people who don’t ask questions

    In most cases, reputable landlords will typically ask for references or perform a credit check. If someone doesn't, that should raise suspicion. It's good practice to keep an eye out for these standard procedures when dealing with potential landlords.

    Get it in writing

    Having a written lease is a crucial safeguard against fraud and ensures that the rights and responsibilities of both parties are clearly defined. In Ontario, landlords are legally obligated to use the Ontario Standard Lease Form. If you're not provided with this form as your lease, don't hesitate to request it.

    What to do if you’ve been scammed?

    Report the incident to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center or the police. Depending on how much money was lost, you may be able to take the scammer to small claims court and sue for fraud.

    Starting your search for a new home? Click on any of these links to access active listings, sold listings or contact a Strata agent.

    For any questions about this article or media inquires, please email