Renting Safely 101: Deposit Key Scams

We work hard to make sure that we do everything in our power to verify and validate the information that is presented to our users. We take great pride when our users help us by reporting potential scammers, and fake/suspicious listings that slip through the gaps.

Today we’re launching a new series of articles called “Renting Safely 101” where we will cover various aspects of renting safely from both the perspective of a Tenant and Landlord.

Deposit Key Scams

At its base a Deposit Key Scam is a variant of a 419/Advance Fee scam. It involves a party (in this case the fake landlord) requesting an upfront payment from the Tenant to secure the rental contract on a property.

So how do you protect yourself?

Don’t be fooled by photography

Just because the listing page has nice looking images, doesn’t mean that the building actually exists or that the ‘landlord’ is the legal owner. Ask the Landlord for additional photos or a video of the space, as the legal owner will have access to the place. If they are unable to send more make sure their reason is believable.

Look at the context of the photo and ask the Landlord about any inconsistencies. Example would be seeing photos of stairs but not seeing a multi level external shot. Sometimes these scammers will steal photos from other legitimate listings to make up their fake listings.

You can also look to use technology like Google’s Street View feature to confirm that the property you’re renting actually exists at the address given and any external images of the property match the ones used in the listing.

Be careful of the cheapest properties

If prices seem too good to be true, there is a good chance they probably are. If you don’t have a feel for what a reasonable price is in an area, take some time discovering the average rental prices in your area. Rental rates well below the market average should immediately be approached with caution.

Always try to negotiate. This is not just to potentially get a better deal, but also to detect odd behaviour from the Landlord. Many times the scammers will use ‘template driven’ communication and swinging a curve ball can force them into tripping over their toes.

Never pay with cash

Scammers preferred methods of payment are cash and cash-transfer services like MoneyGram and Western Union . This is the surest sign of a scammer. Use a credit card or EFT to pay deposits because they offer audit auditable trails that can be used to refund monies or track down the scammer.  There’s never a good reason to wire money to pay a security deposit, application fee, first month’s rent, or any ‘key’ deposit.

Any Landlord who is here to do legitimate business is going to have a bank account and will allow you to transfer directly into it. If they request cash so that you can immediately secure the rental you can use a same-day-transfer from most South African banks (for a fee) – but you should only do this after you have seen and signed a rental agreement that states all parties ID and contact details.

Landlord is based overseas

“Dont worry, He has a plan to get the keys into your hands.” It might involve their lawyer or family member but they’ll ‘drop off’ they keys.

If you can’t meet the Landlord in person, see the apartment, or sign a lease before you pay, keep looking.

Bad grammar in emails

While a typo here and there can be forgiven (especially when replies are “sent from mobile device”, rental Landlords are professionals, and you should never receive emails that are riddled with poor grammar.

Ask to speak to them over the phone. You can ask specific questions about the rental and feel free to ask for past Tenant Reviews– especially if you’re suspicious. It should be an immediate red flag if the Landlord is unwilling to have a quick phone call with you prior to you securing a rental.

Trust your instincts

If you apply a small degree of skepticism to the process of house hunting, you’re more likely to see red flags and catch suspicious behaviour. Legitimate Landlords are here to do find a Tenant to service their investment for the next 12+ months.

You are fully in your rights to request further verification of their ownership. Make sure to verify that the full names match up with the person you’re dealing with via email or on the phone.

Don’t let ignorance be your downfall. Stay updated with all the latest tips and news from Ekaya by creating an account.

Reporting Scams attempts to verify our Landlords but some rentals that are indexed from other sites might slip through those checks. If you suspect that a listing might be a scam do your part and report it, or email us.

If you want to report a fraud attempt or actual fraud you can do so on the South African Fraud Prevention Service website.