Apartment Hunters, Beware Credit Report Scams
Many landlords check the credit reports of potential tenants to help them choose the right tenant. It's a pretty normal part of the apartment hunting process these days. So when a potential landlord asks you to pull a copy of your credit report before applying for the apartment, you may not realize you're potentially being scammed.
How Scammers Trick Apartment Hunters
Say you've been looking for an apartment on Craigslist, which has become a common way to find rentals, particularly those owned by individual landlords instead of property management companies. You find a listing that seems to be a good fit for what you're looking for, so you send an inquiry to the landlord. The landlord responds saying you can apply, just send a copy of your credit report (or your credit score). The inquiry (or even the ad itself) includes a link to a place that you can get a free credit report.
You order your credit report and never hear from the landlord again. Maybe the apartment's been filled. Or maybe there was no apartment. Weeks later you get a mysterious charge on your credit card statement and after some digging you discover it's related to the free credit report you ordered for the apartment.
What's the scam? It's quite possible that the "landlord" was just an affiliate of the free credit report website where you ordered your credit report. Affiliates have financial relationships with certain businesses and websites and earn money anytime users sign up for a product or service. Remember that free credit report link you clicked on? It probably included the "landlord's" affiliate ID number which allowed him to get paid for your free credit report. The "landlord" is richer and you're stuck trying to figure out how to get the charges off your credit card statement.
This is a less damaging version of the scam. Some scammers, instead of linking to an affiliate site, link off to a site that's designed to capture your personal information. With your name, date of birth, and social security number (information that's necessary to order your credit report, the scammer can steal your identity and open up accounts in your name.
Tips to Avoid a Scam
Be careful when you're shopping for an apartment, especially on websites like Craigslist where it's easy and free to create ads. Scammers are rampant. Many landlords do credit checks as part of the application process, but typically have their own service provider for these credit checks. Legitimate landlords won't ask you to pull a copy of your credit report before you've even viewed or expressed firm interest in the apartment.
Don't be afraid to test the apartment deal by calling the landlord's bluff. Tell him you'll send a copy of your credit report after you've looked at the apartment and you've decided to try it. Then, after you've done your due diligence order the credit report from a reputable website. Pay attention to the link you click on. Does it include weird numbers or letters in the URL? That's a sure sign of an affiliate link.