How to Spot and Avoid College Roommate Scam

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    Every year there is one college campus scam affecting hundreds of college students and young adults. It’s the college roommate scams and if you’re not careful it can cost you hundreds (maybe even thousands) of dollars. We’ve talked about fraud before, but that’s a little different.

    There have been reports of the scam in major university cities in the country, including San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. It not only affects students, but also everyone who rents a room.

    Here’s what you need to know in order to protect yourself from this scam.

    How College Roommate Cheating Works

    This is how the scam works. The scammer posts listings on Craigslist and other websites stating that a room is available for rent. Why this works great in university cities is because many students are looking for a room, not a full apartment or house.

    After connecting via email through the website, the scammer meets the potential tenant in the room. You show them the room, tell them about it and act like the landlord. The potential tenant believes them because they have access to the device.

    If the tenant likes the device, the scammer tells the tenant that they have to leave a deposit and the rent for the first month, which is very common – so still no red flags. The scammer can even give the tenant a receipt for the deposit and a key.

    The problem occurs on the day you move in – the tenant will find that the fraudster was not allowed to rent the room. In many cases, the scammer was the roommate who left and tried to make some extra money. In reality, the landlord or owner had rented the room to someone else, and now the tenant has run out of an apartment and the money they paid the scammer!

    What recourse does the victim have?

    This is difficult because in this case the victim really has no recourse. They rented the room from someone who was not allowed to rent it by law.

    In this situation, it is best to contact the police or the local prosecutor. They can help you file a report and maybe if they catch the person, you will have a chance to get your money back. However, this does not solve the current problem of looking for living conditions. This can be a challenge, especially if you have to start college classes soon.

    The best way to protect yourself is to be vigilant from the start.

    How you can protect yourself when renting a room

    There are several steps you can take to protect yourself when renting a room so that you don’t fall prey to college roommate scams. Most of this just involves doing a due diligence. Here are some simple steps you can take to make sure you are not being scammed.

    Make sure you know who you are meeting with

    Make sure the person you are meeting with is authorized to rent the room. This is usually the owner of the home. If the person you’re meeting with is a roommate or a current tenant, make sure they have permission to rent the room by contacting the owner. Sometimes the owners allow their tenants to sublet the unit, but often they don’t.

    Not sure who to contact? Check with your local county council to find out who the actual owner is. Many places have this online and you can easily search and view the public records. In other locations, landlords require a permit. Just make sure you are dealing with the appropriate person.

    Meet the roommate

    Whenever you move to a place with roommates, you MUST meet the roommates. Just like you would never rent an apartment that is out of sight, why rent a place with people you have never met? While they may not be your closest friends, they will be people you interact with on a daily basis. When you go live there, there should be a basic level of connectivity.

    Pay by check

    I’ve written about how few people still use checks, but this is one of those times when writing a check makes sense. In order to deposit the check, the person must certify it, which reveals their identity. The identity of the bank account is also saved. If you go to a check cashing location, you will also need to show some form of identification. If something is wrong, you can always cancel the check and get your money back.

    Want more college tips? Check out our 101 tips for new students.

    Did you hear about the college roommate cheating? Are there any other steps you would take to protect yourself?

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