Allison here, with AllClear ID. Summer is a busy time for renting and subleasing. Students are looking for a way to sublease their apartments until the new school semester, while tenants are looking for a new place as their leases come to end. Whatever the case may be, exercise caution when perusing ads and talking to landlords about open units.

Here are five quick tips to avoid getting scammed:

  1. Always See the Unit before Renting – This is not only good practice for finding the right place, but it’s also a great way to see what’s really going on at the property. Taking a look at the unit gives you a chance to talk to the landlord, see the area, meet the neighbors, and ask any questions that may come up. An ad and a few pictures only reveal so much, and will only say the positive.
  2. Know Something About the Property Before Inquiring – While doing my own apartment hunt, I came across a series of ads that only had a series of random letters as a description, alongside some vague ad copy, a generic picture, and a phone number. They really didn’t say much about the properties available. Those ads could easily be scams since there is nothing specific being said about the properties, or the identity of the landlord. If you don’t have a clear idea of what you would be calling or asking about, don’t call at all.
  3. Don’t Give Any Money and/or Info until You’ve Signed the Lease – This is telltale sign of any scam, not just rental scams. Don’t put in the security deposit or the first’s month rent until the lease agreement has been signed. Until then, the scammer could easily take your money or your information without recourse, since you only have your word to go on and nothing with which to hold the person accountable.
  4. Do Research on the Agent, Agency, or Landlord – Just as these agencies do background checks on tenants, you can do background checks on them before making a decision on any property. A website called CheckYourLandlord.com lets you look for problems like bankruptcies, properties in default, and civil or criminal judgments. You can also do research on the property itself, making sure it is not in foreclosure or owned by someone other than the person or the property company with which you are in contact. If the information isn’t online, then you can do the legwork by speaking with the county courthouse.
  5. Ask Questions – Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions when seeing the place and speaking with the agent or landlord. Ask for identification. Ask for paperwork that says the person is authorized to show the place and to look for potential tenants. These questions should be asked in addition to doing the research. It’s possible that the agent, for example, is authorized to do the work, but the property owner doesn’t have such a clean record.

It’s been noted by the Better Business Bureau that rental scams have gone up since the housing crisis a few years ago, where owners and tenants in rough financial situations have found ways to scam others in order to get out. To avoid these scams, do your homework and follow these five quick tips. It doesn’t take much to spot a possible scammer, and if you aren’t comfortable with a landlord or agency, don’t work with them. There are still plenty of people out there who are honest to renters and subleasers that would be more than happy to help you find your next home.