The scam era is upon us. Aided by AI, borderless currency and the internet of things, there are more people than ever before making a living hustling to steal, impersonate, defraud and otherwise violate our trust.
When the world was inconvenient, this was difficult. The banker met with you in person, so did the charitable fundraiser and your second cousin.
The very convenience we’ve leaned into–digital interactions, quick logins, caller ID–are now being used against us.
Here’s a quick checklist to keep in mind:
–if someone calls you from an institution, don’t assume they’re calling from that institution. Call them back on the main switchboard. Caller ID isn’t real anymore, not when it matters.
–if someone emails you about something urgent, get their phone number and call them. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and don’t send money. The ‘sender’ field isn’t real anymore either.
–it’s now cheap and easy to impersonate someone’s voice and to create digital photographs and videos that seem real.
–don’t use Paypal’s friends and family button to buy things online.
–Don’t buy gift cards (period) but especially… don’t buy gift cards for someone who reaches out to you.
Of course, this all leads to a degradation of trust. When we began to trade for convenience, we also threw away some of our community and our humanness as well.
There are many beautiful apartments in Beacon Hill, or wherever you might be searching, and you deserve to be seeing as many of them as you’d like. Yet at the same time, you also deserve to not have your time wasted by scams, and you deserve to feel and be completely safe during the entire 2023, Beacon Hill apartment-hunting process.
And while there were always things to be concerned about when you were hunting for a Boston Beacon Hill apartment. We want to provide you with at least a bare-bone knowledge of how to protect yourself and reduce risk, so please read through the following carefully and consider it as you go on your apartment search:
While tricks and scams certainly aren’t limited to what’s on this list, you can start here to consider some of the most common concerns to be on the lookout for. Many of these can happen both online and in real life, and websites can’t always protect from these problems, so always be vigilant while remaining excited in your Beacon Hill apartment search.
- Don’t pay for anything until you or someone you trust implicitly has seen the place in person. False listings are common, and with more stock photos and other images that could be used to create one, many people wouldn’t be able to reliably tell the difference.
- You should also be careful with your information until you know who you’re talking to is legitimate. Identity theft is a big business, and something you don’t need to be dealing with as you’re searching for a new place. Sharing some information such as your name and email address is fine, but keep financial information off-limits unless you are dealing with a licensed real estate agent.
- Less scrupulous real estate agents might post a listing for an apartment, vacation rental or room in a roommate share apartment that’s too good to be true, only to later say that the apartment is no longer available, but they’re very excited to show you others that are available. Don’t fall for it, and check in with other sources if possible about the agent in question. If you have an agent or website you trust, stick with them. Keep in mind apartments do get rented very quickly in certain cities and sometimes agents can only offer alternative options if an apartment is no longer available, however if an ad seems too good to be true it probably is.
- Beware of instances where certain items such as background checks or deposits are far more costly than they should be. Someone might be charging more than it costs and leaving you to pay for the difference.
AGENT TIP: In July 2019 New York State passed a law prohibiting rental security deposits in excess of 1 month’s rent
- Be careful of last-minute changes and fees. Scammers or less reputable landlords might try to get you invested and then move forward with increasingly shady actions or expensive fees, thinking you’ll pay them just to move forward. Be wary and consider how they might treat you down the line if you’re already being handled poorly before the paperwork is signed.
Finally, be on the lookout and read up on newer scams if you can. The internet changes rapidly, and while some scams are evergreen, there is always a new cycle to look out for.
If you’re willing to do some research (and you should be), then you can likely find how an agent, firm, broker, or whoever is helping you is registered. Ideally, a good website will tell you this information upfront. The specific qualifications may vary by location, but there is likely some means of verification and identification. You can also check the reputation of any company as well as complaints against them with a neutral party where the company is located like the Better Business Bureau. If you find nothing, proceed with caution, if not turn around entirely from the situation.
Just like there are things to look for, there are things to watch out for when renting apartments online as well. Avoid any of the following:
- Any situation where you aren’t getting nearly enough information. You should have everything you need to know whether the apartment should make your shortlist or not.
- As mentioned earlier, avoid any listing that wants any money or financial information up-front before seeing the apartment unless you are dealing with a reputable licensed agency.
- Any transaction that’s entirely online unless you are working with a reputable real estate agency. Eventually you need to see the place, and anyone trying to rent an apartment should be eager to have people stop by, or at least make an appointment to do so.
- If a listing is dishonest in one or two ways, it’s probably hiding other things.
- Blurry photos, or a set that clearly isn’t giving you the full picture. It’s not hard to create a reasonably-decent listing, and if something seems like it’s being hidden, it probably is. You don’t need to waste your time on that.
Communication is essential
In many ways, the communication you should expect from a prospective landlord in terms of safety mirrors the communication you should hope for in most situations. You want someone who is forthright, easily found online in a professional manner (or the company can be easily researched) and communicates in at least a somewhat professional manner.
You should also be talking to someone who isn’t afraid to provide verification, proof, or additional information in a reasonable amount of time. Anyone legitimate should be happy to provide some identification and show you relevant documents at any time and understand any questions that are for the purposes of your security. Given how easily transferred information is online, there’s no excuse for not providing scans or photos.
Finally, every important bit of information should be in writing, and if you can get a digital copy of documents early on, that’s all the better. That being noted, you should always read the specific document you are signing in full to see if there’s any last-minute changes. Don’t worry, they can wait for you.
General Apartment Hunting Safety Tips
Your safety is paramount, which is why you should engage in the following practices during your search:
- If you’re going to see an apartment or meet with someone online, bring someone with you or at least let someone else know where you’re going, asking them to check in with you after a while. Think about how you might want to be safe on a first date, as what you’re dealing with won’t be far off.
- This may seem like a given, but stick to safe and trustworthy websites when collecting information and searching for places. Look for websites that encourage all the best practices listed in this article.
- Don’t pay for anything in cash, and similarly avoid wiring money online unless you know you are working with a licensed real estate agency that is bound by the fiduciary duties of accounting, reasonable care, confidentiality, full disclosure, loyalty and obedience. Try to use checks (or credit cards) where possible, as they create a better trail and are more easily reversed if you notice something is amiss quickly.
AGENT TIP: Keep in mind that when dealing with peer-to-peer websites that have a 3rd party collecting or holding money for the landlord, you may be subject to their terms when it comes to disputes over deductions or forfeiture of security deposits, giving up your right to take the dispute to court.
- Trust your instincts. If something feels off to you, don’t let your eagerness to find a new apartment make you ignore those feelings. They’re usually right. This is equally important online and offline.
Finding your new apartment can be an exciting, thoughtful, and even stressful process, but it doesn’t have to be an unsafe one. Prospective landlords or property managers should be open, happy to meet with you, and forthright about the apartment. Websites should encourage all of this. Ultimately, if you’re ever nervous or suspicious about the situation, don’t force it and move on. If something seems too good to be true, be careful. There will be other apartments and other opportunities. We wish you the best of luck with your safe and soon to be successful search.
STEPS TO AVOID BEACON HILL APARTMENT RENTAL SCAMS
How do you avoid being scammed? Above all else, never be in so much a hurry to rent a Beacon Hill apartment that you are willing to take shortcuts. That is the reason 90% of victims get scammed. Follow the proper process:
Require that the landlord or realtor provide prof of ownership. A Boston real estate brokers should be able to do this through the local MLS.
Always leave a trail when you make payments by not paying cash. Decline and terminate your interest in the property when a landlord or realtor requests cash payment. Never pay cash, not even for tenant screening fees.
If something about a listing does not add up, do a reverse Google image search of the listing to see if you will find a similar listing on other sites. If you do find it on another site, check if the details of the different listings match up.
Recently, I heard about a Boston apartment agent that advertised another agents listing on West Cedar St in Beacon Hill only to find out it was already rented. When the agents client showed up for the showing her agent had no keys and the unit was rented months ago.
Updated: Boston Real Estate Blog 2023
Click to View Ford Realty Inc., Google Reviews